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

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Saturday in the Park ... or Marietta Square

The party was held across the street at Marietta Pizza. At least that's where we gathered for lunch to celebrate and love on a certain little fellow turning 3.

From the paper on the presents to the car on the cake, the theme was Lightning McQueen from top to bottom.

After pizza, singing happy birthday, blowing out candles,

eating cake, and one last pitstop, we headed across the street to Marietta Square for a little run in the sun to wear off some sugar. I told the little guy he had to hold my hand to cross the street, to which he quickly agreed, keeping it there all the way up to the fountain in the middle of the square where he let go and immediately flung his body prostrate on the bricks, plunging his newly released hand into the still icy water.

Upon seeing the coins, he said, "I need some money." Of course, this grandmother went straight to her purse, and when the pennies were gone, started handing out nickels, all to the delights of a little boy with a strong throwing arm.

The next hour was spent following the now 3-year old all over the square: from the fountain to the stage, back to the fountain, to the stage again, to the fountain, to the train, to the stage, to the train, to the fountain and on and on it went until he grabbed his "Fred" from his daddy, looked at his mommy and said, "I'm ready to go home now." She gathered him in her arms, and he stuck his thumb in his mouth and placed his head on her shoulder. He had played enough and it was nap time.

It has been a long time since I witnessed so much energy. But I can tell you one thing, there was never a single moment when his parents' or grandparents' eyes were not on that child and when we were not following him every step he made. Whether he was up to his elbows in fountain water, doing "tricks" on the stage,

sliding down the slide

or ringing the bell on the train,

he was under our watchful eye and care. And yes, while we were enjoying his merriment, we were also making sure he didn't plunge into the water, fall off the stage, topple from the train or run into the street. 

And as I followed him from the train back to the stage for at least the 4th time, a thought suddenly occurred to me: is this not how God sees me? Am I not constantly under HIS watchful eye? And in that watching, does He, too, not find joy?

For some reason, we have bought into the lie that God is some stern Judge in the sky who is constantly waiting -- watching -- for us to mess up, to commit again that sin that so besets and torments us, to fall off that slippery slope. Why are we so determined to make Him into someone He is not? Why can we not believe that He is a God who delights in watching us even MORE than a grandmother delights in watching her grandson play? Yes! We are forever under His watchful eye. But He isn't tallying our wrongs. He isn't say, "Yep,I knew you'd mess it up again." No, He's crediting our faithfulness as righteousness according to Romans 4. Why can we not get that?

Dear one, embrace the fact that Your God not only beholds you as the apple of His eye, but He rejoices over You with singing and He dances over you with great celebration. Yes, even more than a grandmother watching her grandson on a Saturday in the square. And as anybody knows, that's a bucket load of JOY!

Just an ordinary moment...

Friday, March 7, 2014

A Different Kind of Fast

Okay, so I will be the first to admit I am NOT good at this fasting thing. I can pretty much avoid the discipline throughout the year, put it aside like it doesn't exist -- or matter, until, that is, Lent comes around and "fasting" is the called-for discipline. For some reason, I can't get the upper hand on this one. When I try to implement fasting, it always seems to get the upper hand on me. The practice becomes all consuming, an idol, if you will. Surely that is not the point nor the purpose. So what is? 

Jesus said, "If anyone wants to be a follower of Mine, let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Me" (Luke 9:23). That's pretty strong language, and taken out of context can wreak havoc because we, I, tend to focus on the "deny" part as if it were something good in and of itself. In doing that, we are saying God is most pleased with us when we are giving ourselves a hard time and that He measures our holiness by our ability to endure suffering. What a distorted view.

Maybe what Jesus asks of us is that we renounce those things that deaden us so that we can live more fully -- for Him and for others. Gerard W. Hughes writes, "To live more fully we must free ourselves from self-preoccupation so that we can delight in his creation, know ourselves as at one with it, and see our lives as a gift given to us so that others may live more fully."

Is that not what Isaiah penned in chapter 58 verse 3? The Israelites cried out, "Why do we fast, but You do not see? Why humble ourselves, but You do not notice?" And God answered, "Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day." 

Listen, whereas fasting from food or Facebook or whatever we name or choose can be very beneficial to both our spiritual and physical lives, God does not want nor appreciate phony religion. What He calls as a fast and "true religion" is standing in profound solidarity with the needy. "Is not this the fast that I choose," He says, "to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?" James 1:27 is an echo: "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world."

Timothy Radcliffe in his book Taking the Plunge, wrote, "The monastic discipline of fasting was not so much about not eating, as being at ease in eating, eating what was put before you, eating together in gratitude, eating no more than your body needs. It is opening one's eye to the food on one's plate."

Opening one's eye to the food on one's plate. Yes, such "fasting" and neighbor love delights Him and brings the immediate attentiveness and presence of God. Now that's a different kind of fast. Think about it.

Just an ordinary Lenten moment...

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Life Vs. Death: It's Your Choice

Last week I wrote something in my journal that Ruth Haley Barton said concerning good versus evil. 

GOOD: that which moves us toward God and His calling on our lives.
EVIL: that which draws us away from God and His calling on our lives.

Somehow, that just seemed like a good definition to me.

As I began my Lenten journey this morning, I was directed to Deuteronomy 30:15-20. It's that well-loved and known passage that speaks of choosing life. In a very discrete moment in Israel's history, Moses puts a choice before them: I have set before you today life and prosperity, death [a common Lenten theme] and adversity  ... I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.

A timely word not only for those Hebrew children, but one that constantly, moment by moment, confronts all of us.

What if we took a piece of paper and on one side wrote "Things that bring me to life" and on the other "Things that deaden me," and then we began writing whatever came to mind ... keeping the list for an entire day -- or week. On one side we might start out using words that describe our activities but then move more toward the real issues and use words such as worry, unforgiveness, a cynical spirit, a judging attitude, self-preoccupation, a lying tongue, fear, control, etc. Whereas the other side might also begin with a list of activities, it, too, would move toward words such as trust, faith, forgiving, prayer, love, kindness. You get the point. Which side would be longer? The side that brings life or the side that deadens? The side that moves us to God and His calling on our lives? Or the side that draws us away.

As Moses said, it really is a choice. A choice that wavers between life and death.

Just an ordinary Lenten moment...

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

You Are Going To Die

"Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return" 
Genesis 3:19.

Ashes to ashes; dust to dust. Today marks the beginning of the Lenten season. Six weeks that are set apart for drawing closer to God and seeking Him with much greater intensity. I was fortunate to spend it with 7 other ladies as we gathered around a table, were marked with ashes, and remembered not only our own but each other's mortality and human finiteness. The human condition we all share: we are going to die. You. Me.

It's a morbid thought, is it not? But also one of hope. Because in dying, there is resurrection.

Lord, take the outward mark of ash inward and mark my heart again as Yours. May my outward way so reflect Your inward light that the world will not question whose I am. Amen.
Disciplines: A Book of Daily Devotion

Just an ordinary Lenten moment...

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Pass the Pancakes, Please!

When my 3-year-old grandson was visiting recently, I asked him what he wanted for breakfast. 


"Well, would you rather have pancakes or go to Chick-fil-a?" (Which has become my husband's and my Saturday ritual.)


And so I prepared blueberry pancakes.

That evening, I questioned him again. What would you like for supper tonight? 


Really??? What's up with pancakes?

Well, for a 3-year-old, it's just that he likes pancakes. (Or the syrup I put on his plate for dipping.) But for the rest of us, it could be that it's Shrove Tuesday and, traditionally, a night set aside for pancakes.

Shrove Tuesday occurs on the day prior to Ash Wednesday and is a time when many Christians make a special point of self-examination, of considering what wrongs they need to repent, and what amendments of life or areas of spiritual growth they especially need to ask God's help in dealing with. However, for many, it is seen less as a day of repentance and more for celebration and feasting before the period of fasting required during the Lenten season arrives. I can highly relate to this as on more than one occasion, I have "celebrated" my impending diet with an Arby's roast beef sandwich, curly fries and a Jamoca shake as my "last meal." But I digress.

To shrive means "to confess and receive absolution." It denotes a period of cleansing, "wherein a person brings their lusts and appetites under subjection through abstention and self-sacrifice," a concept based on 1 Corinthians 9:27 where Paul says he buffets his body and makes it his slave. But if anyone knows anything about Shrove Tuesday, they know that this "cleansing" has turned into a day of frivolity and great indulgence where people participate in as much pleasure and self-gratification as they can before Lent begins.

Shrove Tuesday actually had its beginning during the Middle Ages when foods like meats, fats, eggs, milk, and fish were restricted during Lent. In order to keep such items from being wasted, big feasts were held on Shrove Tuesday in order to rid their pantries of those items that would inevitably spoil during the next forty days. The thrifty English housewives were the ones who came about the tradition of eating pancakes as a way to use as much milk, fats, and eggs as possible before Ash Wednesday began.  But it was the French who would coin the name "Fat Tuesday" or Mardi Gras: Mardi=Tuesday; gras=fat. (It actually began as a three-day celebration, but because of all the public debauchery and carousing that became a part of the tradition, somewhere in the early 20th century, the Church restricted the observance to a single day.)

And so today, Shrove Tuesday is celebrated in all manner of ways. Long parades. Elaborate costumes. Flamboyant masks. Practical jokes. Overeating. Too much drinking. Fortune telling. Samba dancing. And, of course, pancakes. It seems the day has bowed to superficiality, unrestraint and self-indulgence.

It's easy to be caught up; but let us not be so carried away by these "carnival" activities that we forget the significance of this day: a time for examination, for repenting and for making amends.

And maybe even some pancakes.

Just an ordinary Lenten moment...