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

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What is THAT?

My husband pointed to the GPS screen sitting on the dash and said, "What is THAT?"  It had been days since we had used the gadget; in fact, not since our daughter had borrowed it for a trip she and her husband had taken a week or so prior.  And as is common to her sense of humor, she had changed us from a vehicle on the road to a huge bird soaring above it.  Wings flapping...

I lay my head back against the head rest and with a huge grin on my face, whispered, "Manna!"

Interestingly enough, "What is it?" is the question Israel's descendants asked when the dew lifted on their empty bellies.  That substance that appeared every morning (excluding Sabbaths) that the Hebrew children found themselves in the wilderness.  That flake that nourished them physically whether it was boiled, baked, fried or eaten raw.  That thing that reminded them that God was not only with them on their journey but providing for them every step of the way.

There are those scholars who believe that manna came out of nowhere, and for them to think anything else would discredit Scripture.  And there are those equally reputable men of God who think He may have taken something from nature and reproduced it every morning, giving them something they would have otherwise never thought to eat.  Which stirs my thinking. What makes something bread from heaven?  Is it the thing itself or the One who sends it?  I guess if we are looking for our manna to drop straight from the portals of heaven, then we just might go to bed hungry.  But if we begin to look for it the common things God sends our way, our souls (and bellies) might become full.

... like sitting with a couple I love over an unexpected lunch last week

... like seeing my grandson's joy when he first sees my face pop up on video chat

... like taking the time to smell an apple before eating it

... like watching the sun rise

... like hearing the voice of a dearly missed friend on the phone

Quite frankly, there's no end to the manna in our lives -- if we're just willing to look for it.

Ironically, the day I began gathering manna was the very day I had been crying out ... complaining, if you will ... to the Lord concerning my own wilderness experience.  Grumbling.  The very thing the children were doing when God told Moses He would send provision.

So why did He do it?  Exodus 16:12 tells us.  I have heard the grumbling ... in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God.

So they might know Him. Could it be the same for us?

But here's the catch.  We can choose to continue our grumbling ... or we can pick up that thing and eat.

Just an ordinary moment...

Friday, January 27, 2012

Friday's Volume: An Altar in the World

Many years ago, I read a book by Mark Buchanan in which he proposed that things of life were not so much divided into religious and secular, but into sacred and profane.  I think that was a beginning of my looking for the sacred in the ordinary, as my blog title insinuates.  No doubt, that's why if I were to keep a Top 10 list of favorite books and another for authors, today's "Friday's Volume" would be high on both.  May I introduce to you AN ALTAR IN THE WORLD by Barbara Brown Taylor.

Barbara Brown Taylor spent her formative years as an Episcopal priest in Atlanta and then in Clarksville, GA until she left full-time ministry to become a professor at Piedmont College, a decision that stretched her faith beyond the four walls of a church building.  In today's book, she introduces us to her new discoveries of spiritual practices and the uncovering of new "altars."  Unlike the common disciplines of fasting, prayer, and lectio divino (sacred readings), her disciplines are the far more barefoot-on-the-pavement kind.  Just listen:

The practice of waking up to God
The practice of paying attention
The practice of wearing skin
The practice of walking on the earth
The practice of getting lost
The practice of encountering others
The practice of living with purpose
The practice of saying no
The practice of carrying water
The practice of feeling pain
The practice of being present to God
The practice of pronouncing blessings

The first time I picked up this particular book, it was a read-through.  I'll even admit I began by approaching it cautiously, just as I do any author with whom I'm unfamiliar.  But now it sits next to me at my reading station, the couch in my sun room.  I pick it up often, and I linger over passages.  I absorb them.  I think over them.  And very often, I pray over them.  Whereas I'll be the first to admit that some parts are very interesting ... if not daring, I can turn to any page, and be blessed. 

A friend with whom I shared a copy of this book gave this insight: "Barbara Brown Taylor models a transparency that enables people to see themselves."  Indeed she does.  I know for me, it has come in the form of a yearning to know God more and to experience His presence in a greater reality in day to day living.  From walking barefoot in the backyard to being stuck in traffic, from going to the local grocery store to digging Yukon gold potatoes in the backyard, Mrs. Taylor reveals concrete ways to see in all we do the sacred in the ordinary -- the altars in the world, if you will -- if we'll just pay attention.

Who knows?  The ground you're standing on just might be holy.  Anybody care to take off their shoes with me? 

Just an ordinary moment...

Friday, January 20, 2012

Friday's Volume: Sacred Space

Confession: I am a bibliophile.  I haven't always been one -- at least I don't think I have.  But there were early symptoms as far back as 4th grade when I volunteered in the church library every Sunday afternoon.

According to my dictionary, a bibliophile [bib-lee-uh-fahyl] is "a person who loves or collects books, especially as examples of fine or unusual printing, binding, or the like."  I can't say my taste in books is toward the "unusual" or expensive -- except for the fact I like purchasing them rather than checking them out from the library, as they, being the media specialists, seem to get ticked when you write in theirs or, even worse, commit the cardinal sin and turn down a page corner.  But since "booklover" and "one who reads habitually" are also included in the definition, I think it's safe to confess, "Guilty."

It's not unusual for me to have several books going at one time.  And it's also not uncommon to have a book mark stuck in assorted and various ones just waiting to be picked up again ... because I got interested in something else.  Quite frankly, that's one of the reasons I keep a list of my books in the column of my blog.  It makes me finish it, because I won't record the thing until I've read the last page and closed the back cover.  But very often, I've wanted to comment about a book ... somewhat like a review, to let the reader know if I enjoyed it or not.  Whether its worth the time.  Thus "Friday's Volume."  I won't be posting something every week because I don't read a book a week.  Sometimes I linger over them.  Others are meant to be read over long periods of time -- like today's choice.  And quite honestly, I never took the Evelyn Woods Speed Reading course.  I ... read ... every ... word.

So here's my first Friday's Volume.
Sacred Space: the prayer book 2012

I'm nowhere through with this one as it's, as you can see, a 2012 prayer book.  But because of the true gem it is, I wanted to go ahead and share it with you -- just in case it peaked your interest.  No author is listed except The Irish Jesuits, and entries are taken from their website at www.sacredspace.ie
Sacred Space began the first Sunday of Advent, November 27, and will take me through Saturday, Dec. 1.  Each day I am invited to make a "space" in my day, thereby making it a sacred space.  It begins with something to think and pray about each day of the week.  I then engage in recognizing the presence of God with me; breathing His life into me; sitting quietly and becoming aware.

This week I've also been encouraged to ask for the grace to be free of my own preoccupations and to be open to what God may be saying to me.

And then I turn to the day's passage.  Sometimes it may be as lengthy as 10-11 verses.  Or it could be only two.  I read it several times -- normally out loud.  I linger over it.  I ask questions of the text.  I place myself there.  If need be, there are "helps" with the text that might move my thinking in a certain direction.

Today's reading was Mark 3:13-19; the account of Jesus going up the mountain and calling the 12 to follow Him -- and then appointing them apostles.  I've read it a dozen times, if not a hundred, through my life.  But today I recognized the sacredness of the moment.  The solemness.  The intimacy.  And probably the cluelessness of the apostles as to what was really happening.

What is stirring in me as I pray?
Am I consoled, troubled, left cold?
Has it moved me to act in a new way?

I share my feelings with Him.

And each time ends with the doxology:
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,
World without end. Amen.

Sometimes I say it, but more often I sing it. 

This might not be the kind of book one would expect to find in a person's first book review, but it's one that's really impacting my life right now.  It's teaching me how to center down; how to pray; how to experience God and His presence on a daily basis.

If I knew how to include stars in this text, you'd see 5 of them.

Just an ordinary moment...

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

It's Just a Rock ... Or Is It an Altar?

I stopped by to see my son and daughter-in-love this past weekend as they had just returned home from a mini vacation in the north Georgia mountains.  My son excused himself for a moment and ran out to his truck.  When he came back in, he held out his hand and said, "Here, I know how you like rocks, so I brought you one from the Lake Chatuga dam."  I have to admit, it's one of the stranger souvenirs I've ever received; and yet one of the most special. 

 My son was correct; I do like rocks.  In fact, I have a small collection.  Here are a few of them.

I guess you could call many of them stones or gems.  But some of them are just plain rocks.  Every now and then, my husband will find one in the woods and toss it in the back of his truck.  I've had friends bring me some.  And others I've even handed over cash for.

But today, I made an interesting note in my journal.  It began this way.

3 Things I Learned About Myself This Morning

1) I love rocks -- and maybe for a purpose.  They form altars....

I've been at a weird place in life lately.  Church-wise, that is.  For years, I've proudly stated, "I'm a church girl!"  And I am, but all of a sudden, I'm finding myself looking beyond the four walls of this thing we call a church building and that we go to every Sunday and where we sing songs of praise and we hear a sermon and then we leave to go "out" into the world.

But I was struck this morning by the story of Jacob in Genesis 28.  You know the guy.  The deceiver.  The one who was not only a mama's boy, but who lied to his daddy and stole his brother's birthright.  And now he was on the run, lest he lose his own head.  And that's when he lays it down ... his head, that is, on a ROCK.  And sometime between sunset and sunrise, Jacob has a vivid dream of this ladder reaching all the way up to heaven with angels "ascending and descending on it."  When all of a sudden, God appears and reaffirms His covenant saying, "the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants."  And then He promises not to leave Jacob until He has done everything He has said He will do.  Wow.  It's quite a dream for a scoundrel.

Jacob lays down with thoughts of Esau tracking him down like a hound dog.  He wakes with quite another thing running through his mind: "Surely the Lord is in this place ... and I didn't even know it!  How awesome is this place!"  And he takes that stone -- that rock, if you will -- and sets it up as an altar unto the Lord.

So you know what occurred to me this morning?  In those days, there were no designated areas for people to make their offerings to the Lord, so they just set up an altar anytime or anywhere they had an encounter with God.  In other words, they saw the whole world as an altar.  But somewhere along the way, altars began moving indoors.  They started to become predictable.  Certain.  Safe.

I'd like to contend in the words of Gerard Manley Hopkins that "the world is charged with the grandeur of God."  And in the words of Barbara Brown Taylor, "Earth is so thick with divine possibility that it is a wonder we can walk anywhere without cracking our shins on altars." 

So I've got this rock collection.  What am I to do with it?  For one, I could have certainly used a rock last night when I saw the breath-taking orange and red sunset.  I can set up a stone when I recognize God in the person I am with. Or when I rock my grandbaby.  Or when I listen to music.  Or when I watch the birds and the squirrels outside my window.  Or when I stop long enough to see the moon and the millions of stars.  Or when I have a hot cup of earl gray creme on my backporch on a cool winter day.  Or when I walk barefoot to the swing my daddy made with his own hands.  Or when I set the table for my dinner guests.  When I make my husband's coffee each morning.  Would you believe I could have even used a stone today while cooking a caramel icing?  After all, who but God could come up with such molecular structure to turn milk and sugar into something so delicious? 

And before I know it, just as in Jacob's case, the nowhere becomes a somewhere.  In fact, it becomes the house of God.

So where can you set up a stone or two? 

Just an ordinary moment...

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Convicting Tweet

I got up early this morning with all intentions to "prepare" myself for worship.  As a church pianist and one who participates in leading others in worship, I like to take a little extra time on Sunday mornings to do just that.  But somewhere along the way, I got sidetracked.  And as the 9:00 hour approached, I picked my phone up to check my twitter.  And there it was coming in just in time for me to see it.  Andy Stanley had twittered, "Ready for church this morning?" There was actually another line after that, but I was so convicted by that one question, it really didn't matter what came next.  God had spoken. 

Several months ago on another Sunday morning, Louie Giglio had twittered, "Some come to church to worship, but it's better to come worshiping to church."  And what he meant by that is worship is a lifestyle ... not just a Sunday morning occurrence.  But the fact remained, I was not ready for church this morning.

I confessed my "do-nothingness" and slothfulness in the few moments remaining and really tried to make up for the time wasted, but it was what it was, and the pressing need now was to prepare physically.  

As I drove the short distance, I couldn't quite shake Andy or Louie's comments.  And so I began to sing:  A worshiping I go ... A worshiping I go ... Hi ho the dairy oh ... a worshiping I go.

I got tickled at my simplicity of mind, and even more so when I realized I was singing the children's song "The Farmer in the Dell."  You might be glad to know that before I pulled into the parking lot, I had graduated from "hi ho the dairy oh" to "The Most High, Almighty One."

And you know what? When I swung open those doors to lead me into that sanctuary, my heart had also swung wide open.  It was complete with joy and my mouth full of praise.  In fact, I even led the chancel choir in a round!

Thanks, Andy, for the question.  And thank You, Lord, for riding along side and putting a new song in my mouth.

A worshiping I go,
A worshiping I go,
The Most High, Almighty One,
A worshiping I go.

Just an ordinary moment...

Friday, January 13, 2012

Did God Really Say...?

Interestingly enough, the very first question posed in the Scriptures is not asked by God, but by satan -- disguised as a snake, of course. 

"Did God really say...?" 

Truth is satan can't make us do or not do anything, but he can place a seed of doubt and let us get tangled up in it.  And that's exactly the seed he planted within me a couple of weeks ago.  Doubt.  In my quiet time that particular morning, I felt like the Lord gave me a word for someone.  Literally, A word.  One word.  "Unleash."  I toyed with it for awhile, trying to make something different out of it.  I even rolled around the word "Release" on my tongue for awhile because "unleash" sounded so weird.  But I couldn't seem to make it work.  The word was what it was: "Unleash."

Words are important, you know.  And they're powerful.  Creatively powerful ... just like they were in the beginning of time when God stood there and said, "Light!  Be!"  And light was.  But I allowed the age old question to take root: Did God really say? 

And so through my first brief encounter that morning with the one to whom I felt I was to speak it, my mind became a battlefield.  "Did God really say?"  And the enemy's seed grew.  A short while later, this one walked through again, and as he turned to leave, I stood there and looked at his back, wanting to call out his name, and that's when the seed went into full bloom.  "Did God really say?  Are you really, really sure you heard Him correctly?  After all, do you know who this person is?  And besides, who are YOU to be speaking a word to him?"  

I watched him walk from the room. 

For the next week, I saw what unfolded in this man's life ... and without one shadow of a doubt, I knew the word spoken to me in the depths of my heart that Friday morning were for him.  "Unleash!"  Sadly, I heard the word come forth from the mouth of a CNN commentator reporting "secular" news and not from one who had heard it in the quiet.  I was also reminded that if we don't praise or glorify Him, the very rocks will cry out. 

Did this one man lose anything from my silence due to my fear and doubt?  Maybe a little encouragement for the days directly before him.  Did I lose?  You bet.  Big time.  I lost having the creative power of God flow through me to another human being.  I lost being a source of blessing to a man going out on the battlefield.  I lost being a flowing stream.  Rather, I was nothing more than a waste pool that day.

Ironically, God's first recorded question is this: Where are you?  Of course, He knew exactly where Adam and Eve were.  But their answer is very revealing.  At least to me.

"I heard You ... and I was afraid..."

Have I learned anything from this? Oh, yes. And that's one of things being a disciple of Jesus Christ is all about. Learning. 

Oh, yes, and being Word conscious.

By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.
John 15:8

Just an ordinary moment...

Friday, January 6, 2012

Bigger Than My Neighborhood

Sometimes God pulls back the curtain a little bit from your own four walls and lets you be a part of the bigger picture ... the grander scheme ... the metanarrative.  That happened to me this past week.

With a friend, I was given the opportunity to be a part of the Passion Conference in Atlanta by serving last weekend in the green room prior to Passion's opening session on Monday evening when 44,000 young people between the ages of 18 and 25 eagerly arrived and filled the massive Dome.  What only two days prior had held a logo of a cow during the Chick-fil-a Bowl and the evening before a Falcon's game, became a place of worship where the rafters were blown off in holy praise.  My small part had only been to be a cupbearer for two days to the musicians who were rehearsing for the event.  I could have easily changed the words of Snow White's seven dwarves from "Whistle while you work" to "Worship while you work," for indeed, I did just that.  At one point when there was a lull in my duties, I sat down on the wooden floor just behind the black curtain on the stage, positioning myself next to the drums.  Placing my hands on the floor, all other instruments faded as I allowed myself to literally feel the worship as it coursed and beat its way through every fiber of my being.  It was a powerful and holy moment unlike anything I had experienced before. 

But when Monday rolled around and thousands upon thousands of high school seniors and college-age kids were heading downtown, I was heading to north Atlanta to keep my grandson for his mother to take 18 of her youth group girls to this massive event.  And so for the next 4 days, I rocked and I played and I read and I fed and I did all those things a grandmother would do with her 10 month old, and when time allowed, I watched the live stream of what was happening downtown.  And that's when I understood that what was taking place and what I had been and was being allowed to play a very minute roll in, was a lot bigger than my neighborhood.  This was global with global impact!

Speakers such as Louie Giglio, Beth Moore, Francis Chan, John Piper and Christine Caine brought excellence in the way of teaching to the stage.  Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, David Crowder, Hillsong and the Passion band rocked the house in praise to God.  And Falcon fans have never made as much noise as those young people did as they worshipped and danced and celebrated Jesus.

But excluding the Lord Himself and the worship of Him alone, the most powerful thing that took place in that dome was the beginning of the uprising of this generation against modern day slavery in which 27 MILLION people on this planet right now are enslaved.  That's epidemic, my friends!  And these young people are not willing to sit back and do nothing.  They began emptying their pockets and gave ... not pledged, but GAVE ... over 3 million dollars to go to causes to end slavery around the world.  But more than that, I believe they left with hearts that had been changed by the gospel to do justice and to love mercy as Micah 6:8 says. If you did not catch it, please see what CNN had to say about the event.

Yes, something huge happened in Atlanta this week.  Something much bigger than in just the neighborhood. And tonight I sit back in awe and while I do, I take note of my own heart's conviction "to do justice." 

What about you?

Just an ordinary moment...

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A New Year ... A New Journal

When I was young girl, a diary stayed in a drawer by my bed ... with a lock on it.  After all, I had three brothers (plus a mother), so precautions had to be taken.  Of course, nothing REAL personal ever went on to those pages.  At that time, entries dealt more with "what I did today" kind of things.  As I got a little older, they surely contained names of boys.

After I married, my journal keeping unfortunately became more sporadic, but I do have a number of them sitting on the top of a bookshelf in my bedroom.  They no  doubt progressed from daily activities and youthful love in the small diaries to deeper workings of the heart in my spiral journals.  From the more frivolous to the more complicated.  And though the pages of my latest one were not completely filled, I felt it time with a new year setting in to get a new journal as well.

But before I did, I reminisced this morning through the old one. In a way, it's hard letting go. This particular journal has been my companion longer than most.  It contains quotes, poems, prayers.  Dreams, drawings and reflections.  It is laced with pictures of companions and notes from friends.  Joys and sorrows, hopes and fears.  Disappointments and successes, praises and complaints are scribbled in both pen and pencil.  But this morning as I read, I heard a common theme: longing.

"Help me to understand my wounds..." 

"Heal my broken heart."

"Release the child of wonder in me so that I may experience the kingdom of God that is around me."

"Come alive in me, Holy Spirit!"

"O God, give me an insatiable longing for You."

"Create in me NEW."

"Open my mind and heart to the great mystery of Your active presence in my life."

"Hear my tears this morning."

"Forgive me."

"Help me."

And most recently, "O Love, seize me!"

Yes, it's hard letting go, especially when much of it left me so raw.  But I lay it aside and pick up another. 

As with any new journal, I was ever so careful as to what was to go on that first clean slate.  It's as if the initial page charts the course for what follows.  But today, it wasn't difficult.  I knew exactly what I wanted this new season to be about.  I share it with you.

Teach Me to Stop and Listen by Ken Medema

Teach me to stop and listen,
Teach me to center down.
Teach me the use of silence,
Teach me where peace is found.

Teach me to hear Your calling,
Teach me to search Your Word.
Teach me to hear in silence
Things I have never heard.

Teach me to be collected,
Teach me to be in tune,
Teach me to be directed --
Silence will end so soon.

Then when it's time for moving,
Grant it that I may bring,
To every day and moment,
Peace from a silent spring.

And thus the journey begins.

Just an ordinary moment...