NEW

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Revelations [NIV]

21 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”[a] for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’[b] or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.”

This passage from Revelations is what began my blog-writing process.  Like the apostle John, I was witnessing something new in my life—a “New Jerusalem,” if you will, that required my attention, my contemplation, and finally, my acknowledgment.  Scholars have argued over the true meaning of the rhapsodic imagery described in Revelations.  Most agree that the New Jerusalem is an idea, and it is this: it is a dwelling place for the Lord that is no longer constricted by bricks or mortar, by tent-poles or canvas.  The New Jerusalem is a holy temple that dwells with and within people.  Within us. We are all to become new little churches, or as C.S. Lewis puts it, “to become a little Christ” (from Mere Christianity). When the New Jerusalem comes within you, the old way of doing things dies to make room for what is new. The New Jerusalem needs “heart real estate” to thrive, of course.
We all know that “new” can be exciting, but “new” can also be daunting.  “New” always serves as a marker between beginnings and endings, and is, thus, a source of discomfort, too.  At this moment in my life, I am watching several close friends and family members jostle up against “new” in ways that are amazing and terrifying.  I am watching my sister, Terry, take a leap and move from her long-time home in Knoxville, TN to begin a “new” life in Virginia, for example. I am watching my father-in-law, Buddy, mourn the loss of his wife, begin the process of selling his home, and decide what the rest of his own “new” life will look like. And, I am watching myself begin a “new” school year, bidding an agonizing farewell to what have been the most painful and joyful months of my life.
While pondering the “new,” one can feel paralyzed, yet it is crucial to look for the hope that is concealed within it.  In flowery and poetic language, the passage from Revelations above describes how The New Jerusalem is prepared lovingly and appears dressed in her finest wedding gown, glowing with anticipation.  God invites her to come forward—this is a planned wedding, after all, and all present will drink from a fountain gushing not with chocolate or champagne, but with the living water to which Jesus alludes in John 4:10. It is the water of self-discovery, of blessings known and unknown, of grace heartily undeserved.
Join me as we sit by this fountain, raise a glass to your New Jerusalem, and take a sip.  Cheers.

 

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Mountains

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Psalm 121[NIV]

A song of ascents.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

 

I have come to the conclusion that I hate Highway 81, with a deep, crimson passion.

My husband and I were headed back to Pennsylvania after spending the weekend with family in Virginia.  I grew up in the Shenandoah Valley, and it will always retain a special place in my heart.  My heart at the moment was actually a bit heavy, as we had just left my kids with my sister-in-law. She and her husband had graciously agreed to take them with their family to The Great Wolf Lodge for three days of waterpark fun. Unfortunately, I couldn’t go because I had to continue my radiation treatments at home. So, as we drove north on 81, I was already on my way to a pity party. The party was interrupted by something worse, however: a blinking sign, stating that a major accident was blocking both lanes and all drivers needed to find an alternate route. Great.

My husband and I got out the map to consider our options. Two highways run relatively parallel to Highway 81: Route 11 and 42. Route 11 (on the east side) and Route 42 (on the west side) are two very old roads that, at one time, were in regular use before Highway 81 split them down the middle.  The exit to Route 11 was backed up for miles, so in a split-second decision, we chose to take an exit toward Route 42.

Route 42 was surprisingly empty, and it wound gracefully through some of the most beautiful countryside I have seen in Virginia.  We passed stately old brick farm houses, majestic red barns, serene cattle and sheep, and countless deep-green fields, all nestled between the Appalachian mountains on the left and the Blue Ridge on the right.  We realized that as long as we were headed north and the Blue Ridge mountains were on our right, we would eventually make it back to an exit that would lead us back to 81. Those mountains have been a source of wonder and comfort to me my entire life, and resting my eyes on them calmed me, as I recited silently Blue Ridge on the right.

I was immediately reminded of the famous Psalm above, as its words are contained within Leonard Bernstein’s “Simple Song,” from his Mass. The words from the song include the phrase “For the Lord is my shade, is the shade upon my right hand.” Why is the shade provided by the right hand? More than likely because most people’s dominant hand is the right hand (apologies to my left-handed friends). It is strong, and therefore, is a symbol of protection in the Bible. (Keeping the sun off your back could save your life, after all.)  Furthermore, in laying on hands for blessings, it was the right hand that was placed upon the head of the one receiving the blessing (Gen. 48:18, for example). Being seated at the right hand of a host was culturally significant and constituted favor as well; according to the Creed, remember, Jesus is seated “on the right hand of God the Father Almighty.”

Even more interesting is that research indicates many scholars view Psalm 121 as a Psalm for travelers.   Its subtitle claims it is a “Song of Ascents”—as in climbing up something.  In his article, “Psalm 121: A Psalm for Sojourners,” James Limburg claims that “ascents” is “a reference to the “going up” to Jerusalem for the annual festivals held there” (p. 181). Each verse offers strong encouragement and assurance to the traveler as s/he climbs. In a nutshell, this Psalm says to me:

“In every uphill climb in your life—every stumble, every rock, every burning ray of sunlight—God is watching over you. He does not prevent every fall, but he will stand by you. He may seem quiet; maybe He even seems to be asleep. He is not. If you are not sure, then look up to those mountains and the clouds above them, and remember who created them. Don’t look down at your feet; look UP.” Blue Ridge on the right.

We made it home safely and avoided the accident on 81, but we were also thankful to traverse “a road less travelled.” It was a wonderful diversion from the curse of Highway 81.

My cancer journey is almost over.  As the highway winds through the valley, my heart continues to whisper:  Blue Ridge on the right. Blue Ridge on the right.

Limburg, James.  “Psalm 121: A Psalm for Sojourners.” Word  World: Theology for Christian Ministry, 5/2 (1985): 180-87.  Luther Northwestern Theological Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota.  Viewed on August 7, 2017 at http://wordandworld.luthersem.edu/content/pdfs/5-2_Psalms/5-2_Limburg.pdf

 

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Robes

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I suppose we must look for humor where this is none.  For me lately, it has been about hospital gowns.  As most of you know, I am undergoing radiation treatment after a breast cancer lumpectomy last May.  It has been a whirlwind of MRI’s, CT scans, and other appointments, and in nearly all of them, I have had to wear some type of hospital covering.  I say “covering,” because not all of the coverings are actual cloth gowns; and many could not even really be called “gowns,” either.  So, to pass the time, I came up with a classification system of hospital attire.  Bear with me, and laugh with me.

The Perfect Gown (which does not exist)

This gown is the color of your choice.  Do you want a perky, cheerful color, like coral or chartreuse?  Take your pick.  The gown immediately sizes itself to your unique body shape.  It is a wrap-around that has a sassy little tie on the side and Velcro on the top for modesty.  Because it is multi-layered, it won’t gap open unexpectedly while walking down the hall.  The fabric of this gown is silky soft and warm, and is so comfortable, you wouldn’t mind wearing it for the rest of the day.  Unlike the other gowns that are usually available…

Like…

The Drab Depresser

Faded and cheerless, this gown looks like it’s been through way too many washings.  It is a sad, pale blue, with a confusing diamond-like pattern that, at one time, may have been quite fetching.  Its current ashen color does not help lift your spirits, however.  While it is soft to the touch and feels nice against your skin, you look down and realize there are worn patches in the fabric that you hadn’t noticed previously.  Those thin places are indications this gown has been well-worn and loved, but it might be best to find a newer, less-used model.

 The Flasher

No matter how tightly you tie the little neck and side straps, this gown will not close in the back, resulting in a constant breeze wafting down your back as you walk down the hall.  You try holding the gap closed, but you can’t reach back enough and soon, your arm falls asleep.  Be sure to wear your best-fitting and cleanest underwear when wearing this model, because many people will be viewing it inadvertently.

The Automatic De-tie

You have high hopes as you put this gown on, as it looks fairly new.  Its pattern is brightly-colored green boxes.  You slip it on and tie it at the neck and side as usual, but as you open the screen to leave the dressing room, you look down and realize you are experiencing a “wardrobe malfunction” no less dramatic than that of Janet Jackson at Super Bowl 38 in 2004.  You rush back into the dressing room, hastily re-tying the neck ties more tightly.  Looking in the mirror, you give yourself a satisfied nod and try to leave again.  This time, the side tie drifts open, and you realize those undies weren’t your most modest choice for the day (of which everyone is getting a good view).  No matter how tightly you or the nurses tie it, this model is simply not having it.

The Gia-normous Wrapper

As you swaddle yourself in this model, you realize something is amiss.  There is more hospital gown than there is body.  Furthermore, there is a confusing array of snaps all along the neckline down the sleeves.  You pause, knowing you should be smart enough to determine the use of these snaps; you really, really think; you shrug and give up.  You put it on anyway, as it makes you feel thin for the day, which isn’t a bad thing.

The Paper “Why Bother”?

This covering, as it can’t really be classified as a gown, is like a paper-towel vest. The pattern for it must have been cut during the 80’s, as its wing-like shoulders look like something Grace Jones would have worn in a low-budget music video.  You put it on so the opening is in the front, but unless you hold it closed, it’s pretty much open to the world.  Luckily, you don’t wear it for long, and not when walking down the hospital hallway.

The Luscious Mammogram Cape

You could imagine yourself wearing this to a cocktail party some time (perhaps not?). This mammogram cape wraps around the shoulders and hangs loosely around the upper body.  There is usually some type of neck closure, but it covers you discreetly.  The most wonderful thing about this hospital attire?  It is warm and snuggly.  The one consistent thing I’ve noticed about nearly every hospital and medical facility I’ve been in is that they are notoriously COLD.  This cape isn’t thin cotton; it is like wrapping yourself in a plush hug.  If only there were full body versions of this!

Have I missed any?  Be sure to notify me if so, and write a detailed description of a hospital gown you have encountered.  Thank you again for joining me on this journey, and for continuing to bolster my spirits.

From Hillary Scott’s “Still”:

You’re parting waters

Making a way for me

You’re moving mountains that I don’t even see

You’ve answered my prayer before I even speak

All You need for me to be is still

 

 

 

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He Knows Your Name

I will give you a name:

It will be special, precious only to you

It will reveal your true self

It will dismantle your flaws

It will release your uncertainties

It will take your misgivings

And replace them with “givings”

You could never count.

Uncross your arms,

Unfold your fingers,

Hold out your palm—

Accept this name.

 

Last Sunday, I preached my first sermon at my church. It was a wonderful opportunity, as it’s a bit like learning to ride a bike—it’s best to try with training-wheels first. My church is my training-wheels, in that I knew they would listen with open hearts and forgive my wobbly bicycle. It was such a safe feeling, to look out on those shining, smiling faces.

My sermon discussed the naming of Esau and Jacob, and how Jacob pulls off the greatest bait and switch deal ever by trading a bowl of stew for an inheritance. What is most fascinating about the story, however, is how the twins are named, and how those names foreshadow their character. The act of naming in the Old Testament is exceedingly important, as giving a name makes an object or a place “known” and “remembered.” Giving a name to a living object, then, like a child, is a spiritual activity that can possibly affect the future of a baby’s life.

When choosing a name, we often choose a family name, or a name whose sound pleases our ear. In Biblical times, names were usually chosen according to their actual meaning in the language, or by the physical characteristics of the child. This was the case with Esau and Jacob. According to different sources, “Esau” is close to the word in Hebrew for “hair”; since he had a great deal of reddish hair when he was born, Isaac and Rebekah name the first of the twins “Esau.” Jacob came shortly after Esau in the birthing process and was holding onto to Esau’s tiny heel. Thus, “Jacob” comes from the word “heel,” but other sources say it is imbued with other less positive meanings, such as “deceiver,” and “supplanter.” Jacob is forever known as a “heel-grabber,” struggling mightily in his relationships with his brother, his father, his father-in-law, his wives, and eventually, God.

As if creating strife amongst his entire family isn’t enough, Genesis 32:22-32 colorfully describes how Jacob engages in hand-to-hand combat with God Himself. Some sources say Jacob’s opponent could have been an angel, as the being is described as “a man.” Perhaps Jacob is even wrestling with himself; yet, it is clear the being directly represents God and speaks for Him. True to form, Jacob somehow finagles God’s blessing from this being. Jacob’s new name, Israel, is a bit grudgingly bestowed, a sign that God recognizes and respects Jacob for his determination and tenacity.

It is an astonishing name, a name that eventually becomes the name of a new people with whom God forges a new type of relationship:

Genesis 32 [NIV]:

28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” 

The name’s meaning is perfect for Jacob, but also foretells the troubled relationship the Israelites (Jacob’s descendants) will experience throughout Exodus, and even beyond. Yet, the most noteworthy aspect of this name, I think, is found in the last part of this verse. Jacob overcomes his battles—those within, and those outside of him. He faces them head on without flinching, and fights for God’s blessings, rather than waiting timidly to receive them.

As B-Flat Christians, we all wrestle with ourselves, with others, and with God. We could all be named “Israel,” in a way, but the critical point is to overcome. Our daily battles are about remaining hopeful in the face of poverty, in practicing empathy instead of judgment, in loving others who definitely do NOT deserve to be loved…in essence, to seek our true names. God knows our hearts and is waiting patiently to gift us with our real selves if we search for them.

What is your name?

 

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SAND

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I can never decide which is worse—packing up for vacation, or unpacking after vacation. Packing is exciting because you are anticipating the fun activities you’ll do. Do you have your bathing suit? Your hat? Sunscreen? Towels? Most of all, what are you forgetting? There’s always something. The thought keeps nagging at you as you drive to your destination until you snap your fingers and think HA! My pillow! I forgot my pillow! Somehow, though, you make do.

Unpacking, however, is drudgery. The fun has happened. The weather was gorgeous. You were free from the normal struggles that pull at you from all directions. Here you are, staring at a suitcase full of damp clothes that need to be washed. There are bags all over the kitchen floor that need to be put away. You have no idea what you’re going to make for dinner because there is only a jar of pickles and mayo in the fridge. This was my state of mind after our vacation.

I picked up my beach bag to unpack it, accidentally dropping it and spilling it on the floor. An assortment of shells, sunscreen, an opened bag of trail mix, and sand, rushed all over the floor. Sighing, I picked up what I could, feeling the grit of the sand beneath my feet as I walked around the kitchen. I found my bag of shoes and, as I pulled them out, more sand sprinkled on the floor. I got the bag of damp bathing suits out and went outside to hang them on the line. Sand slid from every single one. Sand had worked its way in to everything from our trip, an annoying reminder of the fun we left behind.

Returning from vacation was particularly difficult this year, as I knew we would be returning in time for me to begin radiation treatments. I tried to recharge my “joy battery” as much as possible, knowing I would be drawing on its reserves for the rest of the summer. So far, the treatments have been just like that sand—an annoying, daily reminder that will be with me for a while. No matter how I vacuum or brush them off, I know I have to get up the next day and do it again.

I am trying to remember that sand is a wonderful thing, too. I love the challenge of walking in soft dry sand, feeling my muscles work as I cross over a sand dune toward the water. I love standing ankle-deep at the water’s edge, feeling my feet sink gradually deeper and deeper with each wave, eventually disappearing beneath the surface. I love sitting in my beach chair and digging trenches in the sand with my heels, burrowing down into the cooler, wetter sand beneath.

What I really love, however, is picking up shells that have been smoothed and shaped by the water and the sand. Sometimes, those shells look nothing like their original shape. For example, I picked up what I recognized as the interior of a conch shell, its spiral still intact, its outer shell and pointed horns broken off and worn away into little nubs. Despite the fact that it wasn’t a whole shell, it was still beautiful. I rubbed its creamy, peach-colored lip, marveling at its twirling center.

I, too, am being smoothed and shaped by my cancer experience. Remnants of the old me are still here, but I can feel how the “sands” of radiation treatments are polishing me and filing down some of the sharp edges of my spirit. I even have my own plastic container of sand that I gathered from the beach and brought home with me. That way, I can put my feet into it when I need it, to bring me joy, and to make me remember this time of learning.

Psalm 139 [NIV]

17 

How precious to me are your thoughts, God!

    How vast is the sum of them!

18 

Were I to count them,

    they would outnumber the grains of sand—

    when I awake, I am still with you.

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RONDO

Reading Time: 2 minutes

[For Cathy and Judy, and all the Crows of the present and past]

Rondo: [according to oxforddictionaries.com]:

  • “A musical form with a recurring leading theme, often found in the final movement of a sonata or concerto.”

  • A rondo’s form is comprised of a refrain that is repeated between other melodic material, called “episodes”

  • Its form is often A B A C A

Every summer, my family descends upon a wonderful little barrier island in North Carolina called Emerald Isle. Scads of aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents gather together to relax and enjoy each other’s company. The days stretch as long and as wide as the sugary sands of the beach.   The nights are filled with delicious seafood, competitive games (Scrabble and Poker are favorites), and endless conversations, all accompanied by the soundtrack of rushing surf. This year was no exception. It was lovely to see everyone and to see how their children progress, seemingly overnight, from toddling babies into willowy teenagers.

One morning as I sat in my beach chair chatting with my cousin, Tracy, I saw her watching her little boy dig busily in the sand beside my teenaged son (Shelby) and my husband (Doug). “Look at them,” she said, grinning. “You know, I remember being little and Doug digging big holes in the sand for us. Then, when I got older, I remember playing with Shelby when he was a tiny little boy…” She paused and laughed. “Now, Shelby is playing with my little one! Isn’t it amazing?” I agreed. It IS amazing to watch time wash by and, wave by wave, gradually alter the coast-line of our lives. It’s a cycle that is still miraculous to me.

What also continues to astound me is to watch my nieces and nephews as they have children. These kids (so they’re in their twenties—they’re still frozen in time for me as kids) whom I babysat and diapered are now having babies of their own. “The Kids Table” at which all the nieces and nephews gathered together to enjoy raucous meal times has become “The Second Adult Table.” We will need to buy another “Kids Table” to accommodate the new little beach combers that keep appearing. Our hearts are as full as our beach house now!

The celebration of new little ones is tinged with a bit of sadness, too, because we remember that not all of our family members are present each year. Some live too far away to come regularly; some have other commitments; and some are no longer with us. It is this dichotomy we have come to take part in every year—the predictable “sameness” of the location and the traditions we uphold, juxtaposed by the constant change of new and aging faces. The absent faces may not be here, but they live on through the stories we re-tell about them every year.

I am already counting the days until next summer…

Precious soul, do not delay

Embark on the wondrous journey

To the sea of meaning!

Remember, you have passed through many stages

Do not resist, surrender to the journey.

Wash your wings from the earth’s clay

And follow the trail of those before you.

Do not linger in the potter’s shop

Break the jug and flow with the stream of life.

Rush down from the mountain to the sea

For the mountain offers no refuge.

Do not wander east or west

Aim straight at the sun!

From its light, like the moon,

You will sometimes be a crescent

And sometimes full. [p. 42]

From Rumi’s Little Book of Life: The Garden of the Soul the Heart and the Spirit. Translated by Maryam Mafi and Azima Melita Kolin. Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads Publishing, 2012. Given to me by my dearest of friends, Kari Skipper.

 

 

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Community

Reading Time: 2 minutes

[For Mary Lynne]

  • A Christian community shares common goals and communicates (with each other, and with God) through communion.

Community is an old word, actually. According to Merriam-Webster, it has been in use since the fourteenth century, and its root word, common, has been around even longer–since the thirteenth century. All of these words stem from the Latin communis, or “ordinary,” which is one if its contemporary definitions. Other synonyms might be shared, similar, or related.

Today, community is a buzz word some might define in a social context, as in “belonging to a group,” or in a geographical sense, as in “an area of a town or neighborhood.” While these definitions are valid, they really only hint at what community is and what it was intended to be.

Genesis 35

After Jacob returned from Paddan Aram, God appeared to him again and blessed him. 10 God said to him, “Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel.” So he named him Israel.

11 And God said to him, “I am God Almighty; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will be among your descendants. 12 The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you.” 13 Then God went up from him at the place where he had talked with him.

Looking at community in this context, we see that it is a creation resulting from a centuries-old covenant between God and Abraham. God chose Abraham to be the father of a new nation of people who would no longer worship a multitude of fickle gods. This nation, named after Jacob/Israel, Abraham’s grandson, would be unique. They would have a direct relationship with the One God, later revealed to Moses as “I AM.” This nation would see God’s manifestations in clouds of fire; they would hear His voice in the thunder; they would see His writing on stone tablets; they would learn His laws, which at the time, were different from any human law.

This nation would also struggle, rebel, and disobey every law placed before them. They would, as they had years before, lose the intimate relationship they had with God, yet, He would always return to them. God eventually came back to them in the most profound way possible—by becoming one of them. By becoming one of us. By becoming “common” and “ordinary.”  Perhaps this is why the word communion seems directly related to community and common. After the Last Supper, every-day sustenance was transformed into a holy ritual—a reminder of the fulfillment of that covenant made long ago between God and His chosen, wandering people.

No matter how far we roam from God, no matter how our sins transport us away into the Valley of Sheol, He will always be there pursuing us, even unto death. When we share communion, we communicate our thanks to God for promises kept. We communicate with each other by acknowledging openly how far from perfection we truly are, and by recognizing the unfathomable value of every person eating that bread and drinking that cup.

 

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STEPS

Reading Time: 3 minutes

{For Helen}

Psalm 37 [David]

23 

The Lord makes firm the steps

    of the one who delights in him;

24 

though he may stumble, he will not fall,

    for the Lord upholds him with his hand.

I distinctly remember watching both of my children as they first learned to walk.

One day, your child is standing still, she gets that sparkle in her eyes…and then she steps. You hold your breath, not wanting to shout for joy, as you don’t want to startle her. Will she do it again? You can barely contain yourself as you wait. You watch as she pauses and thinks for a moment, her face suddenly serious. Then, with great effort, she picks up the other foot and steps. Her arms are splayed outward as she wobbles uncertainly, and inevitably, she plops down. Startled and frustrated, she cries inconsolably. You reach out, saying, “Ssshhhh, come on, let’s try again” and help her up, this time, holding her chubby little fists in your hands. You step with your left foot, and she matches you; you step with your right foot, and she matches you.

God does not promise that we won’t stumble or fall down; in fact, the verse above guarantees that we will indeed do so. God does not say, “I’m going to make sure you feel loved and fulfilled every day of your life. I’m going to prevent this storm from flooding your home. I’m going to prevent this disease from taking over your body. I’m going to keep your loved one from dying.”

What God does say is, “I’m going to comfort you on the days you hate your life. I’m going to send workers from a church to help you fix your flood-ravaged home. I’m going to clutch your hand when this disease takes over your body. I’m going to embrace you when your loved one dies. Believe Me, all of those things and worse will come to pass, but you will feel My love, both in prayer, and through the concern of others. Remember this, most of all: I watched Jesus stumble down that dusty road dragging a cross on his ravaged back. I didn’t prevent My Own Son from dying, so I know what suffering is all about. Now, here we go. I have your hands clasped in Mine; now move your left foot…now your right…that’s it. Just match My steps.”

Proverbs 20:24

A person’s steps are directed by the Lord.

How then can anyone understand their own way?

Step…out of your comfort zone

Step…over an obstacle

Step…into forgiveness

Step…through your pain

Step…beneath the wings of security

Step…between your fears

Step…around weakness

Step…behind the Protector

Step…beside your friends

Step…with a heart, cracked open and pouring out gratitude

 

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Breath

I started this blog as a commentary to celebrate and study the joy of the common, every day, ordinary (B-Flat), things in life. I’ve decided I’d like to write using themes that you, Dear Reader, can suggest. So, here’s the first:

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Breath.

  • The very essence of life…

  • Not just drawing air in, but exhaling it out…

  • The basis for one of English’s most uplifting words—”inspire,” and all of its derivatives (from the Latin verb “inspirare,” meaning “to breathe”).

    According to Genesis 2:7, God literally breathes Adam to life, suggesting that breath is the source of humankind’s creation. References to the breath of God appear numerous times later in the Bible, too. God’s breath can be something that creates abundance of life, fills followers with faith, and symbolizes a holy presence; its power can also wreak havoc, terror, and confusion. All of these aspects were revealed at the first Christian Pentecost, or “The Fiftieth Day” (meaning the Fiftieth Day after Passover).

    Yesterday was Pentecost Sunday, one of my favorite days in the liturgical calendar. This amazing account of the Holy Spirit being gifted to the disciples is one of the most colorful stories in the Bible (Acts 2). Some Christians are uncomfortable with anything being portrayed as “magical” in the Bible, but I can’t imagine you could call this occurrence anything but miraculous. Along with several other believers, the disciples were gathered in a room, praying, talking, and waiting for the next step God would reveal in the new plan, now that Jesus was no longer on earth to guide them.

    God’s plan comes with the primitive elemental forces of air and fire. A rush of violent wind, the breath of God, fills every space and corner in the room.  This is no wafting breeze, no gentle zephyr wind you might feel on a morning in June; no, this was like experiencing a raging tornado at close range. Fire in the form of tongues of flame—one of the oldest signs of the presence of the Holy of Holies—appears above the heads of the disciples. It was miraculous, but it was more than likely terrifying as well to all who witnessed it. It seems that God decided to “take the theatrical route” to shake the disciples from out of their current posture of waiting into a more dynamic posture of acting. God’s breath is transformed into the Holy Spirit, roaring through the room, enflaming the disciples and early Christians to begin spreading Jesus’s story to all the ends of the earth.

    It is also in this way that breath and flame inspire language, in that the disciples are suddenly able to speak languages that had previously been unknown to them. Language is a give and take of breath, an inhalation and exhalation. It is also listening (taking in), and it is speaking (giving out). Language ignites communication and kindles understanding.

    Language is not just spoken, however; language is also written, and was to be vitally present in scripture and in the future teachings of early Christians like the apostle Paul. Paul himself even states that “All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16)

    Perhaps some might read the Bible and question Paul’s belief that all of it is inspired by God. If it were truly inspired by God, wouldn’t everything that happens in the Bible be fair?  Wouldn’t all the accounts of the gospel match up perfectly with no discrepancies? Wouldn’t all of God’s prophets, disciples, rulers, and kings be fine, upstanding citizens? And what about all the “smiting” God seemed to enjoy doing in the Old Testament?

    There is certainly much to ponder in these age-old questions, and the answer may be that there is no answer—none that will entirely satisfy us anyway. In his sermon entitled “Is the Bible Inspired?,” the Rev. Dr. James C. Howell states it this way:

Yes, this is All the Scripture that is inspired.  Messy, human, broken, miserably lacking in potential and lackluster in performance.  Why would God use such a book?  Because God wanted the book to  make sense to people like us.  Because God wanted to redeem the broken, lackluster and messy.  God’s very project to save us was to become one of us, and a poor, no account guy from out in the middle of nowhere who recruited few followers, and those failed him.  He was accused of partying too heartily, carousing with the wrong types, then he died a brutal, criminal death, a shameful showing for a sad human being, much less God almighty. This is God’s story, and this is my story and yours.  And it really is a stunningly beautiful story.

So let us breathe in the story. Let us feel the mighty wind swirl around us. Let us feel the heat of a holy flame alight above us. Let us even be afraid for a moment or two. Then, let us be divinely inspired by God’s breath to speak of the hope we know is ours to share.

[Please take a moment now and suggest a word for the next blog. Come on—help me out!]

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hurry

 

Reading Time: 2 minutes

 

Hurry

BY MARIE HOWE

We stop at the dry cleaners and the grocery store   

and the gas station and the green market and   

Hurry up honey, I say, hurry,   

as she runs along two or three steps behind me   

her blue jacket unzipped and her socks rolled down.   

 

Where do I want her to hurry to? To her grave?   

To mine? Where one day she might stand all grown?   

Today, when all the errands are finally done, I say to her,   

Honey I’m sorry I keep saying Hurry—   

you walk ahead of me. You be the mother.   

 

And, Hurry up, she says, over her shoulder, looking   

back at me, laughing. Hurry up now darling, she says,   

hurry, hurry, taking the house keys from my hands.

 

Poem copyright ©2008 by Marie Howe, and reprinted from “When She Named Fire,” ed., Andrea Hollander Budy, Autumn House Press, 2009. First published in “The Kingdom of the Ordinary” by Marie Howe, W.W. Norton, 2008.

 

I first heard this poem when the author, Marie Howe, read it aloud on NPR’s On Being at https://onbeing.org/programs/marie-howe-the-poetry-of-ordinary-time/.

[I don’t know why this link isn’t working, but if you do a search for “Marie Howe On Being,” the entire transcript of the interview pops up.]

I can relate to the mother in this poem so well; my guess is that most mothers can. We spend our lives running (quite literally) from one task, job, chore, errand, children’s activity, meeting, class, rehearsal, party, event… to the next. What often happens is that one or more of your children get dragged with you as you decisively mark off each item on your “to-do” list. You spend the entire day in drill sergeant mode, saying, “Come on honey, we’ve got to get going…march, march, march!” All of this urging does nothing, of course, to get children moving. No matter what the age, asking children to “Hurry!” is, as some say in the South, like asking milk not to pour—it is a futile effort.

I am in the process of slowing down my life, not by my choice, but by Cancer’s choice. Cancer has become my “parent” in a way, dictating what my next few months are going to be, overturning my schedule-encompassed, productive days. The surprise has been that Cancer doesn’t say “Hurry up,” as the parent does in the poem above. Cancer steps in, fairly suddenly, always quietly, and says, “Excuse me a moment, but I have some things for you to think about. I have miracles to show you. I have stories to tell. I have secrets to whisper, visions to experience. Sit down. Put your feet up. Wait and see.”

It has been an act of complete submission on my part. When recovering from surgery, your body does not give you a choice; you must rest and let go of your hectic life. You must lie down in your bed or on your couch. Your job, laundry, vacuuming, the grocery store, errands, exercising, cooking dinner…all the things that grasp you until you feel you might be pulled apart, limb from limb, all fall away.

I have made the surprising discovery that the earth does indeed keep revolving, even if I have to stop and rest in the day. To be honest, it has been a relief. It has been an excuse to re-learn how to relish the ordinary things in my life that I’d forgotten were there. This summer, I will be receiving six weeks of radiation treatments five times a week. That means that, every day, I will have to pause and do nothing for at least fifteen minutes while the treatment is happening. I need to determine what I will think about during those minutes, because time to be still—with purpose—is a precious commodity not to be wasted.

So, instead of planning tons of summer activities for my kids, I’m going to find things we can do that are close to home. Even though they are teenagers, I want to proactively be near my kids. We are going to go on more picnics in our backyard. We are going to watch more movies on Netflix. We are going to pick our favorite board games and have a marathon. I am not going to worry if the kids and I have been productive or not; but we will, I am certain, “produce” things whose value cannot necessarily be weighed or accounted for. I am looking forward to it.

 

 

 

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