Category Archives: Moments of Wonder

Suffering, the Door to Grace

The most important thing I have learned in the fifty-two years since I experienced the unconditional Love of God through Jesus.                                                                                      Every miracle I’ve experienced came as a response to suffering. Every healing insight I’ve had came out of suffering.  Every experience of forgiveness came out of suffering. Every increase in strength came out of suffering. Every increase in faith came out of suffering. Every freedom to love more came out of suffering. Every recognition of the power of Grace came out of suffering. No matter how much I resist this truth emotionally, I cannot deny its reality. Jesus certainly fleshes this out. I glimpsed this truth many many years ago as seen in this poem I wrote in my early forties. Even now, accepting it doesn’t take the pain out of the process, though it does seem to shorten it.
Spring
I hunger to be born again,
to take my hurts and failures
and mulch them into new beginnings,
to turn them into fertile fields
of understanding and compassion.
To experience again the greening out
of the frozen landscapes in my life
and gain a rich new Spring perspective
that builds on leaves and logs of yesteryear
to bring forth the ripe good fruit of love.

“Come, Lord Jesus, Come” : Our Advent Prayer

Christmas trees, decorations, Christmas music, even in stores pushing the season earlier and earlier for their own purposes, all fill me with wonderful memories, anticipation and joy. I’ve learned over my eighty-two years, that what puts the focus on Christ at Christmas is my own hunger for his presence.

Advent is the traditional pre-Christmas season of preparing our hearts for his coming.
Those four weeks were arbitrarily set centuries ago to reflect the four thousand years that the world waited in darkness, longing for his coming. Many years ago, I began on the first Sunday of Advent to pray each day, “Come, Lord Jesus.” Then I watch expectantly for him to become present in small, but recognizable ways in my heart and life.

And some years my heart and mind are actually attentive enough to recognize his coming.

One Christmas Eve, our children and grandchildren were all at our home, surrounded by the friendly reds and greens of Christmas and delicious smells teasing from the kitchen. In one bedroom, a grand-baby snuggled into sleep, while in others whispering parents wrapped and ribboned Santa secrets. Only Granddad was missing, out doing his traditional Christmas Eve shopping.

As excited older grandchildren were setting out to explore the woods and creek, I was making a clean up sweep through the holiday chaos. (Having ended up the “cleaner upper” by default, I was grumbling to myself a little.)

And one preschooler, too young for exploring and too old for a nap, went from room to room knocking on doors only to be told that he couldn’t come in. When I found little David sobbing forlornly in the middle of all the Christmas glitter, I decided to console him(and me) with an outing to feed the ducks that winter over on the lake in town.

When we arrived at the lake, the hungry ducks gobbled up our bread crusts so quickly
and ferociously, that we began to fear we would soon become part of their Christmas Eve
menu.

As we took refuge in the car, I heard our parish church bells ringing for the special Christmas Eve children’s service, The Mass of the Bells. Since the children get to sing all their favorite carols and even ring bells to celebrate the birth of Christ, it seemed like a Christmas serendipity for David. Looking at our faded jeans and muddy tennis shoes, I hesitated, but remembering the ragged shepherds at the first Christmas, I headed on to church anyway.

For lack of having his own bell, David rang my key chain as he sang with off key gusto. Then, as all the children gathered around our parish priest on the floor of the sanctuary to talk about the Christmas Story, David somehow managed to squirm all the way to the front of the group. When Father asked what happened when Mary and Joseph
knocked on the door of the Inn, David’s response rang out, “They wouldn’t let them in.”
Then, with a sudden rush of outraged feeling, he shouted louder, “They wouldn’t open the door!”

It seemed like he remembered his feelings about closed doors earlier at home and identified with the Holy Family.

And then when Father asked how they would respond to Jesus knocking at the door of their hearts right now, David sang out with conviction,

“Come in Jesus. Come right on in!”

On our way home, David joyfully assured me that even if others sometimes didn’t let children in, he and Jesus always would. At his own level he made the connection between his life and the Gospel story, even realizing that opening his heart to Jesus, also meant opening his heart to others.

And my heart was filled with the joy of Christmas, of seeing Jesus being born once more
in the heart of a child.

As a post script I’d like to share more about David. When he was a college junior he and several other college students took cold water and hamburgers down town in the Memphis August heat to share with the hungry and homeless. As they did this, one man asked for them to pray over him (David said that they needed God’s grace for that). But as they prayed, others began coming forward asking, not for money, or even food, but for prayer. Since then, David has taught in schools in Indonesia, Afghanistan, and Bolivia.

Whenever the stores start Christmas music, August or October, let it be our cue to start praying the prayer of our hearts, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come.”

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Albert Einstein on Jesus, Science, and Religion

As a child I received instruction both in the Bible and in the Talmud. I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene. . . . Jesus is too colossal for the pen of phrase mongers, however artful. No man can dispose of Christianity with a bon mot. . . . No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life. How different, for instance, is the impression which we receive from an account of legendary heroes of antiquity like Theseus. Theseus and other heroes of his type lack the authentic vitality of Jesus. . . . No man can deny the fact that Jesus existed, nor that his sayings are beautiful. Even if some them have been said before, no one has expressed them so divinely as he. (Interview with George Sylvester Viereck, 26 October 1929; see also Denis Brian, Einstein — A Life [John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, 1996], pp. 277-278)
What separates me from most so-called atheists is a feeling of utter humility toward the unattainable secrets of the harmony of the cosmos.(“Einstein and Faith,” Time Magazine, 5 April 2007)
The highest principles for our aspirations and judgments are given to us in the Jewish-Christian religious tradition. It is a very high goal which, with our weak powers, we can reach only very inadequately, but which gives a sure foundation to our aspirations and valuations. . . . (“Science and Religion,” cited in Einstein’s Ideas and Opinions, pp. 41-49; from an address at Princeton Theological Seminary, 19 May 1939. It was also published in Out of My Later Years [New York: Philosophical Library, 1950] )
GUEST: I have a letter that Albert Einstein wrote to my father in 1943. In 1940, my father read a “Time Magazine” article that stated that Einstein was quoted as saying that the only social institution that stood up to Nazism was the Christian Church. My father is a Presbyterian minister in a little northern Michigan town called Harbor Springs. And he quoted Einstein in a sermon, and a member of the congregation wrote my father a letter saying, “Where did you get your information?” So my father wrote “Time Magazine” and “Time Magazine” wrote him back, and I have that letter, too, but they didn’t give the source, so my father wrote Einstein and he wrote back, saying, yes, he did say that the Christian Church was standing up to Hitler and Nazism. [ . . . ]
Our time is distinguished by wonderful achievements in the fields of scientific understanding and the technical application of those insights. Who would not be cheered by this? But let us not forget that human knowledge and skills alone cannot lead humanity to a happy and dignified life. Humanity has every reason to place the proclaimers of high moral standards and values above the discoverers of objective truth. What humanity owes to personalities like Buddha, Moses, and Jesus ranks for me higher than all the achievements of the enquiring and constructive mind. What these blessed men have given us we must guard and try to keep alive with all our strength if humanity is not to lose its dignity, the security of its existence, and its joy in living. (From a written statement [September 1937] as quoted in Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman, editors, Albert Einstein: The Human Side [Princeton University Press: 1981] )
All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man’s life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom. It is no mere chance that our older universities developed from clerical schools. Both churches and universities — insofar as they live up to their true function — serve the ennoblement of the individual. They seek to fulfill this great task by spreading moral and cultural understanding, renouncing the use of brute force. In “Moral Decay” [1937], also published in Out of My Later Years [1950] )

Savoring Brings Grace for the Present Moment

Unless we come as a child…….

There’s a quote from Bob Holmes I read on Face Book that recently helped me regain my sense of God’s presence in my life and the healing grace of feeling God’s unconditional Love. I used it along with something I wrote for a devotional for our First Presbyterian women’s group yesterday.

“Today’s devotional is about the Love of God for us, his children. Everyone is a child of God, but not all of us have experienced that unconditional Love of God. We know we are loved, because Jesus told us so and fleshed out that Love. It’s been a long time since we’ve been children, but compared to God, we are barely babes in arms. We are toddlers in God’s eyes. And it is healing and empowering to recapture that feeling of being loved like a child. Here are some of my thoughts on the Love of God.

The Love of God is so incredibly different from any other love we have known, that it boggles our ability to believe it enough to accept and experience it. No matter how much any of us have been loved by family and friends, or even if we are famous and wildly adored by multitudes, none of this is ever more than a barely glimpsed shadow of the Love of God. The Love of God is the only thing that is necessary. Jesus was the the Love of God fleshed out. We need nothing more than to open our heart to experience it, until our spirit is so filled with it that it will simply overflow to others.

Once experienced, our minds remember it, but our fickle feelings let the challenges of life steal the grace of it away.

So according to Bob Holmes in Savoring,
“Here’s the deal: What you do not savor, you will not remember. It’s a neurological fact. Our brain immediately bonds with everything negative. (It’s how our survival brain works and why depression can win so easily.) Anything good and positive that we want to remember needs to be savored. It brings our heart into the equation. This is the heartbeat of Contemplation, to savor the warm loving embrace of God’s Love. If you want to recapture the feeling of any good thing, love, joy, peace..it has to be savored. So, linger in those moments, allowing them to expand your heart. Intentionally take the time to savor all the good things in your life, because remembering them will bring them into the present, and you can experience them as gifts of God’s Love even in the hard times.”

Here is our closing prayer: “Lord, give us God eyes. Help us to see you and experience your love in the beauty of nature, in simple things like daffodils. Let us hear you in the laughter of children and in music. Help our mind recognize your love in the coincidences that help us. Open our hearts to accept your love in the kindness of others and to pass it on. Remind us to savor these as hugs from you. Thank you for loving us, your children and for Jesus, who is your love for us fleshed out, Amen  

These pictures help me remember that love.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Jesus with a child and Daffodils, which were                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     my sign of hope from God when Tommy,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   our youngest child, was desperately ill as a toddler.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is No “Other.”

One midnight in pristine newly fallen snow, I walked alone into a field on a hill where billions of stars gave light to the night. The silence was so profound, I could feel it like a soft comforter around me. As I gazed into an endless sky of light, I felt myself shrinking, almost disappearing into the vastness of the universe. Then suddenly, my boundaries disappeared and I was one with it all. I was inseparable from every star, every person, creature and mysterious molecule in that vastness. And I could no longer see anyone or anything as “other.”

Wanting More

I think one very basic human trait is wanting more of whatever we need or value most. The “what” varies greatly from person to person, but we always want more of it.
Some people want things you can see and touch. Whether it’s collecting unusual or expensive things, or something as simple as recipes, or tools, or books, or even as someone once said to me, ” I just want the land I own and all the land that touches it.”
Other’s collect people: friends, lovers, fans, followers, students, or people to help in some way.
Quite a few collect power whether it’s over family, fellow citizens, employees, soldiers, clients, or even animals.
Many want visible accomplishments, whether on a grand scale like city planing, building sky scrapers, or simply working with our hands at a craft or garden. It’s the being visibly productive that appeals.
Others seek experiences, like travel, extreme sports, or the arts, nature’s beauty, even food.
Then, there are the challenges of developing skill in things as varied as golf, or dance, or photography, or writing poetry. Then it’s the always trying to become more proficient.
And the lucky ones are focused on collecting knowledge, which is something in abundance and variety all around us.
And of course,there’s collecting wealth for its own sake, like the story of King Midas.
I guess failing to achieve in any of these, there’s always indiscriminate hoarding.
But what we all have in common is that we always want more.
And maybe that is what old age, even illness, is about.  It can free us to stop and let go.  Then we can be still enough to open our hearts and minds to the greatest treasure, the glory of God,.   And that is what all these things have in common.  They are tiny tastes of the glory of God.

Adventures in Grace

When we know with both heart and mind that we are loved at our worst and unfinished at our best, our lives become adventures in grace.

What the Heck is Grace?

Repentance is now considered a negative word. It implies sin, guilt and shame to the modern mind. Yet, the truth of the biblical quote, “All fall short of the glory of God” (which is perfect love) is pretty obvious.

The problem seems to me that somewhere along the way, we decided that seven was old enough to recognize right from wrong and twenty-one was old enough to take responsibility for our choices.  End of story.  The reality that we not only can grow in our understanding of and capability to love ( of morality), but were designed to do this at least to the day we die, got lost in the shuffle between Adam and Eve and their apple of damnation and Jesus Christ and the cross of salvation.

What if we use the word “unfinished” to describe our falling short?  What if we use the word “growth” for the change implied by the word “repentance.”  And then recognize that grace is simply “unconditional love ” in many different guises. And that is the fertilizer, the good soil, that enables growth and change.

Important note:  Love does not protect us from the pain of natural consequences from our imperfect human choices.  But love/grace stays with us through the whole learning process and has the power to free us to change when we recognize our need for it.

What percentage of the world’s population experiences perfect love from birth to seven?  More, probably, than between seven and twenty-one. But where in the world do children experience only that kind of love?  In an imperfect world of disease, hunger, greed, war, and TV is it even possible to protect children from knowledge of the fear, pain, and hunger in the world?

Even in a loving family, in affluent circumstances, traumas can still happen at critical stages of a child’s development.  I knew a family who had several children and when the youngest  was a toddler, the mother stayed with the oldest who had to be in the hospital for a week. After they returned, the youngest would have a panic attack if the mother even went out the front door and could no longer go to sleep except in bed with the parents.  Up until a certain age, a child experiences “out of sight” as “gone forever.”   By school age, the child seemed to outgrow the fears, but years later, in retrospect, the mother recognized that a profound fear of abandonment has been a strong influence even into adulthood.

We probably all experience the crippling effects of forgotten, even innocently caused traumas, unaware of how they influence our responses and choices in adulthood.  The key to freedom is recognizing them, feeling sorrow for how they have wounded us and caused us to misuse others, and then by taking responsibility for seeking healing.  Recognition is the beginning of the process.  Sometimes awareness alone can free us to break a pattern of response.  Other times, it takes time and we can only replace the destructive response with a less harmful one, during the process.

We are terribly vulnerable human beings in a scary and confusing world in a humongous unknown universe.  Both, addictions to pleasures and to behaviors that give us the delusion that we are in control, dull the pain of awareness of our human vulnerability.   I personally am not into housekeeping.  Dust reappears the next day; no feeling of control there.  But sorting and organizing lasts a lot longer and is much more satisfying. But sorry you will be, if you come along and disturb my order.  And when dealing with painful realities in the middle of the night, but too tired to organize anything, I’ve been known to stand at the kitchen counter and eat half of a peach pie.  These are not terribly destructive painkillers, unless I use them to indefinitely avoid looking at what is the  root of my particular pain at that time.

I’ve never known anyone that thought this life is heaven.  Though there have been times I thought it might be hell.  I am definitely no longer a Pollyanna, who saw only the good, because I felt too fragile to deal with the pain of life.  Nor am I my midlife self that became a cynic, who expected and tried to prepare for the worst.  With grace, I’ve become able to see both in each day; to experience the deep sorrow of loss and the joy of beauty all around me at almost anytime.

When we believe we are loved at our worst and still unfinished at our best,  most days we are able to try to be open to how our lives are challenging us to grow. Sometimes, like Peter Pan, my theme song is “I Won’t Grow Up!”  But then I remember that life does not give up challenging us, which means I’m just dragging out the process.

We are all a work in progress.  Awareness is the key to progress. And that comes in different ways: discomfort within,  overloaded responses to people and events, even just something we seem to suddenly read or hear all around us.  We will be able to perceive the cues in different ways through different stages of our own life.   When I got brave enough to make the leap from agnosticism to faith in grace, I could suddenly make sense of the scripture in spite of all its anomalies.  But I met many life long Christians that admitted sadly that they did not really find meaning there.  Then later in life, they suddenly found great joy in it.  I had loved the Scripture from my early thirties, but during my fifties and sixties it simply became like reading the back of cereal boxes.  We all go through stages, but they differ in timing because of our various personalities. So, don’t assume because you have never enjoyed or understood something, that you never will.  Like it or not, we grow and change with both losses and gains during the process.

All of this can be seen as psychological or spiritual or both.  Mostly, it’s just the way life is, but how we perceive it can make a huge difference in becoming the people in process that we were created to be.

 

 

The Prayers of Our Lives

It is a prayer of faith when someone struggling with depression continues to face each painful day by clinging to God even in their desert night.
The act of hope of parents who lose children and risk loving again is prayer given flesh.
The breadwinner who quietly quits their job rather than go along with corruption is a light on the path to the Kingdom of God.
Couples that struggle to forgive and rebuild relationships that have crumbled under human failure are living prayers of love.
The many sitting vigils at the foot of a suffering loved one write bright prayers across a winter sky of faith that does not have to see.
And when a rough hewn, weary farmer speaks softly of a moment when twilight mists in freshly mown fields fill his heart with awe, I see that, for that moment, creation and creator have become as one.
Perhaps the purest prayer of all is when an autumn breeze swirls golden leaves like sudden showers and a tiny toddler spontaneously and joyfully applauds. Then the praise of angels has touched us here on earth.
Prayers have flesh and bone and walk among us every day. There are myriad ways to pray.