Touch the Dawn

Photo: yala-lala via Deviant Art Labeled for Non-Commercial Reuse

Photo: yala-lala via Deviant Art
Labeled for Non-Commercial Reuse

In the tender compassion of our God,
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death
and to guide our feet into the day of peace.

Luke 1, 78-79

Photo: touch the flame Deviant Art Labeled for Non-Commercial Reuse

Photo: touch the flame
Deviant Art
Labeled for Non-Commercial Reuse

May the light and peace we need so much be with you, your loved ones and our troubled world. Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year.

Victoria

Playful God

I assure you, unless you change and become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of God.Whoever makes himself lowly, becoming like this child, is of greatest importance in that heavenly reign. Mt. 18, 3-4 (NAB)

Photo: Crayola Crayons

Photo: Crayola Crayons

I remember a couple of lines from a poem I read a long time ago from a book published in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s. It was written and published by a teacher from St. Mary’s of the Lake, a sister college back then of Notre Dame University–the college my grandmother attended. I tried to recall the exact phrasing, but the book is not available to me right now, so I will just give you the gist, in my own words:

I have a very little song to sing,
I have a very little game to play,
I play alone, except for One who is with me always.
And they are beautiful.

Whenever I read or think of this poem, I think of the ever-loving presence of our God and the fact that God cares about the littlest things in our life.

Yesterday, I had a delightful morning with a dear friend, someone with whom I share faith-talk. We went Bible shopping, as my sight is not so good anymore (one of the non-perks of getting older). I would like one that is large print. Most of the ones we saw were enormous study Bibles. None was in the translation I am used to. But we saw a shelf of coloring books for kids and started talking about the meditative fad that’s popular now of adult coloring books. Kerry told me they have them at Costco, just across the street from where we were. So we went, and both found one…but no crayons.

Now, in my early years, my mom and I lived with my grandparents on a very meager widow’s pension. Mom was not able to give me most of what I asked for, so I still carry the pure delight of the times she would take me to get a new coloring book (or any kind of book, for that matter) and a box of crayons…eight of them, if I recall correctly. Even now, when I pass crayons in the grocery store, I can taste that joy, the scent and colors of a new box of crayons…and so in the afternoon, I took off to Wal-Mart and bought one with 120 colors! I colored two pictures last night.

Jesus asks us to become like little children and I believe that is an invitation to trust and unquestioned belief in His Word. But I also suspect that God delights in us when we find joy in the simple things of life (and in the beauty of His creation.) Perhaps you would enjoy it too–or maybe you will rediscover one of those little things that gave you happiness as a child.

Image: Pinterest

Image: Pinterest

Keeping Sabbath

Image: oneyearbibleblog.com

Image: oneyearbibleblog.com

Most Sundays, I try to practice Sabbath—a tradition that was a strong factor in my growing up years, but that had waned with my work as a nurse…patients need care every day of the week. Most of us know and understand the concept of a day of rest, but our frenetic lifestyles tend to get in the way.

The concept of Sabbath crisscrosses most cultural, spiritual, religious and secular societies, even predating biblical times. The Babylonian Enuma Elish prescribed a day of repose. In the Genesis creation story, God rested after his six days of work and, I suppose it worked out well so that he added it to those tablets of stone he handed on to his people through Moses. Wicca, Islam. Buddhism, Cherokee teaching and others all caution humans to take a break, chill out, and rest.

Wisdom, it seems to me, embraces our need for refreshment, for replenishment of body, mind spirit and emotion, for regeneration and reflection.

For many of us, well, for me anyway, the need to be in control seems to take hold and it becomes oh-so-hard to let go of time, accept idleness and unproductivity and, perhaps, the feeling of uselessness. I suspect that there is a trust issue here. Can I really believe that God will take care of things in my absence? Can I believe that the work of creation on this particular day will go on without my amazing intervention?

So, how do I, Ms-Doing-Not-Being, make Sabbath?

• Meditation—a bit longer than my ordinary routine.

• Worship—with my Parish community.

• Journaling–and in the process really waking up to what is happening around me. I may write of all the wonderful sensory experiences that a pristine summer day offers—the finches’ songs, the brilliant orange of the male oriole at our feeder, the spicy scent of new-born flowers and the basil in the vegetable garden. I can pay attention to the play of light and shadow in the now-expansive boughs of the ash tree we planted almost twenty years ago and watch the hummingbirds fly back and forth sipping nectar from both flowers and feeders. I may feel the gentle kiss of a breeze and delight in my dogs’ warm bodies flanking me on either side. I will listen to David busy chopping spices in the kitchen.

• Spa Stuff. I can pamper myself, thanking my body for its seven decades of service and praise the many scars that it bears, a reminder of the life-threatening illness I have survived, for now.

• Creativity. Maybe some consider engaging in the creative process to be work. For me, I allowed the muse to come out and play, more by way of brainstorming than actualizing any project. Sabbath time allows ideas to gestate and gives clarity as to where to take them.

• And, yes, a final confession. I might do laundry. So, it’s not a perfect Sabbath, but for this woman who tends towards OCD, that’s probably not a bad thing. Besides, we need clean clothes!

Sabbath is not something that comes easily to many of us. I am aware that it doesn’t have to always be on Saturday or Sunday, or even occupy an entire twenty-four hours. How is life different if, each day, I remember to tuck in an hour or even minutes for the divine repose, sitting back and letting go?

Would you add, in comments, some ideas on how to keep Sabbath?

Photo: sroabji.com

Photo: sroabji.com

“Catching Sight of God”

“Immediately, upon catching sight of Jesus, the whole crowd was overcome by awe.”
Mark, 9, 15 (NAB)

Photo: consecratetheday.com

Photo: consecratetheday.com

This verse from Mark caught my attention this morning. It occurs at the beginning of an account in which Jesus heals a boy possessed by a deaf and mute spirit that threw him into what we would describe as epilepsy. The disciples lacked faith to heal him themselves and Jesus got on their case for that before asking the lad’s father to believe. The entire story is full of lessons and points to ponder–but it’s that verse I quoted above that commanded my attention today.

Two points: the preceding account is that of the Transfiguration in which Jesus gave Peter, James and John a glimpse of his divine beauty–or perhaps it was the Father’s doing. I have to imagine that after that, Jesus still had a radiance about him that struck the crowd.

I’ve seen that among his followers, haven’t you? The knowledge of God, an experience of his presence in our lives, really does transform us and there is a certain joy, a radiance that shines through our physical person. In my work with death and dying, I’ve even seen it in the midst of pain and impending loss when there is an undercurrent of faith that supports both the patient and their loved ones.

Second point: we, too, can catch sight of Jesus in the unfolding of every single day…perhaps in another person, perhaps in moments of prayer, in those moments that we can cultivate when doing the most menial of tasks like laundry or dishes, during a commute, working in the garden where we can appreciate the wonder of creation and the need of the constant attention needed to pull out those darn weeds (guess what I did this morning).

Jesus shows up, sometimes when we least expect it…if we look for him. Would you share (in comments) how he took you by surprise today. Or is there an event from the past you would like to share. Maybe this will help a fellow follower to zoom in on the Presence.

Thank you.

Homeless

Photo: tomstoneartist.com

Photo: tomstoneartist.com

Walking down the road I saw a man in tattered clothes.
I couldn’t help but wonder what had led to his defeat.
Tell me, if you would, about this life that you have chosen,
or did you have no choice except this life, upon the street?

I handed him a buck or two and said, Here, take a seat.
Upon a rusted old park bench we hunkered in to meet.
You’re curious, my boy, he said, why do you want to know?
I want to understand you, sir, to see what makes you so.

That money that I gave to you, I know you’ll give to others.
I wonder, how do you survive while giving to your brothers?
A smile broke across the wrinkled landscape of his face,
the pain I’d seen inside his eyes seemed suddenly erased.

You may not really want to hear the story I will tell,
it happened many years ago—a place not far from hell.
The name, you’ve heard—‘twas Auschwitz, a camp they took us Jews
the horrors that surrounded me tempted me to choose

to take my life before they could subject me to a death
without the grace of dignity. I wanted to be free.
But then some words came tumbling from the darkness of my mind
Words spoken by a holy man I heard in years behind.

The teacher’s voice was strong, it traveled straight into my core
of all I understand of God, of what we’re living for.
such good there that can be done in Auschwitz late at night—
your hope can be a gift to those who tremble in their fright.

And what I learned back then—the truths that saved me from despair
I carry them within my soul, there’s so much need to care.
So I refuse to see my life a symbol of defeat.
Much good there is, my son, that now awaits me in that street?

The old man stood and shook my hand and left me with his smile
I sat, transfixed, upon that bench, alone, for quite a while.
Now I withhold my judgment when I see another homeless guy
and wonder still at wealth, within, that money cannot buy.

This poem, written a number of years ago, is based on a true story, recounted by a Rabbi whose name I can’t recall. For me, the lesson is to look for God in everyone, in everything.

Have a blessed week.

 

Two Scrawny, Dried-Up Sardines.

Jesus then took the loaves of bread, gave thanks, and passed them around to those reclining there; he did much the same with the dried fish, as much as they (the five thousand wanted. When they had had enough, he told his disciples, “Gather up the crusts that are leftover, so that nothing goes to waste…” John 6: 11-12

Image: Louise Carroll

Image: Louise Carroll

A reminder for us: never doubt the gifts that God has given us for the well-being of his people. Look what Jesus did with five barley loaves and a couple of dried up sardines!

“The New Deal”–Jesus’s, That Is

 

Image: outoftheoverflow.com

Image: outoftheoverflow.com

The readings I’ve been doing on my own, and some of those I’ve heard in church during this Lenten season, have given me cause to compare and contrast the new and the old covenants.

The Old Covenant between God and Abraham, then codified with Moses and the whole people Of Israel, was based on the law–the Ten Commandments and all 613 legislative details that followed. It was a sort of tit-for-tat deal–“You observe these and I will be with you. You are my people and I am your God.” It’s not news to us that this didn’t work out well for either side. As much as God, through the prophets, admonished and promised, threatened and taught, the people just couldn’t pull off their side of the bargain. Human weakness and temptation were just too much for them and try as they might, they fell flat on their faces, over and over again.

So Jesus came to earth. I believe it was to check things out and find out where the flaw lay in the Father’s creation. To this end, he allowed himself to experience everything we experience–but Jesus never let temptation get the best of him. He never sinned.

I can imagine in those amazing dialogues with the Father–on mountaintops or in the wilderness–he shared what it was like to be human, how strong the urge to disobey those commandments could be. Talking it over with the Father, merciful and loving, they must have come to the understanding that the old law was beyond humankind’s ability and maybe it was time to try something else. And so they started all over again. Perhaps Jesus told the Father that, if they were not going to give up on creation,  something was needed to provide a mechanism for forgiveness.

Did he then offer himself as the solution? Did he explain to the Father what it was like down here in the valley of tears to be confronted with loss, rejection, fear, persecution, physical and mental illness, temptation and failure? Did he then say, “I’ll take it all on myself. I’ll show them how much we love them by going through the worst kind of suffering and death we can think of so they won’t feel so alone and helpless. We can give them a way out–the gift of loving forgiveness. And let’s summarize all those rules into two simple ones: love of God and love of neighbor.”

Is that what brought us to the first Holy Week, the beginning of which we observe today? May our subdued celebration of the Passion and Death of Jesus lead us to experience God’s forgiveness of our weakness, our willingness to forgive others and our gratitude for the immense love our Savior gives to us each moment of each day. And may that celebration burst out in Joy a week from today as we commemorate his glorious resurrection.

Are you doing anything special to observe Holy Week?

donkpreston

Exodus 3: 4

 

Photo: galleryhip.com

Photo: galleryhip.com

God called out to him from the bush, “Moses! Moses!” He answered, “Here I am.”  “Come no nearer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is Holy Ground.”

Exodus 3:4

Whatever happened on the way to life?
Waiting to finish this or that until
the moment that was then, is now, is gone.

Look closely at your world:
the way the light shines through
the beveled glass,

breaks into prisms and colors
the morning quiet, livens the dew
hidden inside a trembling leaf.

Taste the burst of sweetness
when you bite into a summer plum
or sip the nectar of a lingering kiss.

Listen to the music of your child’s
first word, touch her skin and revel
in the silky texture of her hair.

The scent of rain on steamy earth,
the call of crickets or the mournful murmur
of the dove, do not ignore them.

Your senses call and you respond,
Here I am.

Photo: kathytaughinbaugh.com

Photo: kathytaughinbaugh.com

The Potter

Photo: gentlemint.com

Photo: gentlemint.com

Potters

The day wind felled a weary oak,
we donned old clothes and boots,
took pails and spades in hand.

We ventured out into the brumy cold
to scoop red clay, harvesting Earth.
That night we sat around a fire.

Faltering flames dispelled the cold
that seeped through dense stone walls—
walls caching sacred secrets of a century, or more.

We worked the clay for days,
extracting grit and stones—
Gaia’s grainy cells

that would, ignored, destroy
our own creative efforts.
Tediously, we toiled for perfection.

And when the day arrived to mold
and fashion terra-cotta worlds,
figures formed of toil and imagination,

We discarded clods of mud
still clinging to our hands.
Yet now and then we’d find a pebble.

Photo: solarpoweredkate.com

Photo: solarpoweredkate.com

This poem is based on a memory. In the early 1970’s I lived in France as part of my training as a member of a religious community. I’ve always struggled with perfectionism–still do (to a lesser extent as I come to realize that the “work” I try to do on my own has already been done for me.) The small image below is where I lived, in Brittany.

 

Photo: La Tour St. Joseph St. Pern, France Maison Mere, Ptes. Srs. des Pauvres

Photo: La Tour St. Joseph
St. Pern, France
Maison Mere, Ptes. Srs. des Pauvres

The Dark Night

Image: drariadne.com

Image: drariadne.com

The Dark Night

When night is bathed in ebony
and even stars are wont to pierce
through veils of clouds,
you stumble forward,
grasping crumbled walls
that close you in.

Bleak thoughts now pummel you
like angry fists that rage against
injustice. You breathe oppressive air,
musty, stagnant, born of rank suspicion
that your need shall never know
relief, that hunger rests un-sated.

Today there is no morrow—
only haunting memories of days
unfolded without joy, Your faith
betrayed, you open wide your hand
and watch hope slip out between your
fingers, free of empty promises.

Tonight you stand alone,
shrouded by the chill of winter,
without clear vision. Death stretches
out his hand; you reach to take it,
but not before the nightingale sings.

This seemed to me like an appropriate poem for today, the beginning of winter, the solstice, the longest day of the year. Most of us have been through spiritual dark nights. Let’s never lose hope in the song to come.