Sweet Marie and More

I got the nicest card in the mail the other day from a dear friend. She had given out a copy of the Sabbath book we studied together and shared her experience. She is such a kind person, a positive force, and a wise teacher. I learned from her that all the voices we hear in our heads that talk ‘down’ to us are called ‘the committee’. It was wonderful to hear from her and I so appreciate the act of kindness she showed me. Thank you!

And then, on a Monday after preaching, I received a phone message from a congregant, who was in his car driving somewhere. It said: “I was just thinking what a good job you did yesterday and thought to myself, rather than think it, why don’t you call him and let him know. So this is me, calling you, and letting you know you did a marvelous job not just with your sermon but with the whole service.”

And then, I go to the neurosurgeon for an appointment. My wife is with me. We talk about my back and the kind of surgery I need next. He shows me areas of compression on the MRI. He brings out the plastic model and shows me what he will do. We talk about the recovery process and how I should feel afterwards. And as I grab the door handle to go out to the nurse to schedule the surgery he says, “Hey, wait, I want to tell you this before you go. Your congregants that I treat; they really think highly of you.” I was stunned.

I’m not sharing these things because they point toward something good that I’ve done, rather I’m sharing them because they point out how simple it can be to bless another––a card, a call, a comment. May we all find the time and courage to bless others with simple acts of kindness and acknowledgment.

Improv

So I woke up the other morning, made my coffee, and was going to make some bran muffins. Because we bought store brand bran cereal instead of the real deal I have to run it through the food processor first to turn it into bran dust. The handle on the food processor brakes so it won’t run. After figuring out where to stick a toothpick I get the machine to run and pulverize the cereal. After mixing all the ingredients I notice the muffin pan is filled with rust, the bottom of each well covered with a crust of red oxidation. So I decide to make a bran ‘cake’ instead as the cake pan still has its nonstick coating in place, unlike the muffin pan which needs to go bye bye along with the food processor. I get the coffee made, the muffin-cake in the oven and head outside only to notice it’s raining just hard enough to be an annoyance if I sit out. So I put down the coffee, open up the French doors, pull in an outside chair ‘just’ inside the threshold and have my coffee ‘outside’ while sitting in the dining room.

This morning did not go smoothly or as planned but in the end I improvised enough to have my morning coffee outside, with a delicious piece of bran muffin-cake. (Don’t look for the recipe any time soon, I don’t think it will be a hit).

Once again, the lesson: breathe (and relax and laugh)!

Morning Glories

Up at 3 this morning after a GREAT nights sleep. Latte in hand as the first blue appears at 4:44AM. (I noticed the light blue and checked my phone – 4:44.) The neighbor behind me is also an early riser. He wears a headlamp and every now and then there’s a beam of light flickering my way. I’ve never met the man. The growth between our houses is thick and you can’t really see through it, except for the light that shines in the darkness.

I don’t know why I need to get up so early to ‘see’ the light of Christ shining in the world, in my life, and deep in my soul. But today I feel the light, the joy, the peace that surpasses understanding. As the birds started to sing, I want to join them: “thank you” is the song in my heart today.

Terror and Amazement 

I’ve spent the last two days working on planning worship for 2018. Yesterday was Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. This morning was Lent and Easter. It’s quite something to move through the texts so quickly, like a rock skipping across the top of a lake.

This coming year, rather than reading the familiar Easter story from the Gospel of John, I’ll be preaching from Mark’s version. In it three women come to the tomb, find it empty, and are told to go on and tell the disciples.  They don’t tell anyone because they are filled with “terror and amazement”. 

I don’t know why yet, but there seems to be a tremendous amount of spiritual sustenance in the tension between ‘terror’ and ‘amazement’ – simultaneously being filled with fear and awe. Often in life, we find ourselves in this same liminal space, in-between, and if we cultivate enough space and breathe deep, we can find ourselves allowing the awe to slowly drain the fear from our hearts.

I’m looking forward to preaching on Easter 2018!

Hard to Breathe

I realized this morning its hard to breathe when you are holding your breath. I have a medical test tomorrow that I’m anxious about and as I sat in the humid darkness this morning, I realized I wasn’t really breathing. Fear makes me breathe shallow, and fast, without a sense of spaciousness.

I then I remembered Wayne Muller’s invitation from the Sabbath Retreat: say the name of God (Yah-weh) long, and slow, like a huge exhale. I did that a couple times and found myself opening toward the awareness of the promises of Psalm 46: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear…” This is also the Psalm that reads: ““Be still, and know that I am God!”

Breathing, presence, assurance, and stillness – today’s lesson to remind myself I live by the grace of a loving God. Hopefully I can remember this tomorrow too.

Barefoot in the Yard

I was thinking about my post from Friday, about the prayer rock while I was drinking my coffee this morning and decided to slip off my sandals and take a slow walk through some wet grass. Very slowly, in the early hours, I walked around the yard noticing the dampness on my feet. As I sat back down, what I noticed next was that I was smiling, really smiling, and very happy. Prayer today was a barefoot walk through the wet grass. (I’ll leave ‘lying down in green pastures’ for another day.)

Prayer Rock

On the small table in the backyard where I have my early morning coffee there sits three rocks from Manitou Beach on Bainbridge Island, WA. We lived on the beach for two years while I was Associate Pastor at Rollingbay PCUSA. Every now and then I find myself, without forethought, picking up a rock and simply holding it, rubbing it, feeling it’s weight. Upon reflection, I sense the call I discerned during my sabbatical in Scotland continuing to work within me: live a smaller life; live closer to the ground. At times, holding that rock is prayer; and connecting to the Earth; and being reminded of the ebb and flow of the tide (of life) that smooths our rough edge over time.

Psalm 23: In the Face of Uncertainty

This morning, I found myself sitting in the Healing Garden at St. Luke’s Hospital in Chesterfield, MO. After physical therapy I walked over to the hospital to go pick up a prescription from my doctor. On the way I noticed a sign for the healing garden. On my way back to the car I stopped in to check it out. I’m glad I did. It is a beautiful place of peace and comfort with lots of trees, flowers, benches, and a fountain. As I sat and breathed deeply of the peace, an idea came, like a hummingbird, so I took out my notebook and translated Psalm 23:

The Spirit is my guide. All is well.

You lead me to beautiful places of rest.
You invite me into stillness.
You ground my soul in wholeness.
You encourage me to walk in well-being and peace.

Even though I live in the midst of struggles and pain,
You are with me; a guiding presence and a comforting peace.

Before me, in the presence of my worries and all that distracts me,
you bless me with welcome. You feed and sustain me.
You assure me of goodness––my heart is full.

Surely goodness and mercy shall companion me
all the days of this life as I live into wholeness
and into your eternal, blessed rest.

I dedicate this to all the ‘healers’ at St. Luke’s.

Painting Barefoot

I’ve recently started painting again. After a trip to the Museum of Modern Art in NYC I came back to St. Louis with a desire to paint with bold colors on big canvases. Inspired by Jackson Pollock, all of the ‘big paintings’ have been laid on the floor of my basement and painted while standing over the canvas and letting the paint drip or flow onto the canvas in random fashion. I like deciding the color palette for each work and then being afraid that after only two of the five colors, the painting might be ‘done’ and worrying, “if I add another color, will I ruin it?” So far, I haven’t ruined anything. (I do them for fun, so I don’t have too much ownership over the artistic outcome.) I work slow, adding one color every day or three or four, depending upon what the painting and/or Spirit is whispering to me. But the one thing I realized today – I always paint barefooted.

For some reason, I feel it is sacrilegious to paint with anything on my feet: I need to feel the floor. Without socks of shoes in the way, I can feel the floor, or the energy of the earth rising through the floor, and I feel grounded in the task at hand. Being barefooted makes me more present to what I’m doing, and more attentive. I think I might start taking my shoes off when I pray and see what happens.

Transforming Inner Judgment

I’ve been reflecting on how annoyed I got at the beach when the woman next to me was singing or how I feel at the grocery store when someone is talking so loudly on their cellphone everyone can hear them. How might I exude loving-kindness to those who annoy me? Victor Frankl, in Man’s Search for Meaning, talks about the space between our experience and our response. And I’ve come to realize that for me, the most important thing to do when I feel myself noticing ‘annoyance’ is to sigh, deeply and intentionally, and to literally ‘let it out’. I’m learning to practice what Jesus says in John 13:34: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” So now I’m trying a new practice: sigh deeply and say silently in my heart toward the other person, ‘I love you’. It works most of the times I remember to do it. I’m also encouraged by the fact that even Jesus got annoyed.