Friday, December 23, 2016

Lifting Up the Lowly

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor
on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud
in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful
from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

There is comfort for me this season as I read again the words of the Magnificat which is one of the scripture of today. Mary's words of prayer and proclamation about the baby she is going to give birth to.  There is tremendous irony in these promises of the king born in the stable to a young girl.  The king whose first worshippers were animals and shepherds.  It is all a picture of the upside down life of Christ.  

Richard Rohr in his daily meditation today wrotet a summary explanation of the worldview and plan of the coming of Christ.  Jesus comes so that we might know that

"God can be trusted. God is like a loving Father or Mother who is involved in our lives and our world. So do not be afraid.     Divine Love has the power to effect lasting and real change. Alignment with such truth is to live under the “Reign of God.” The simple and pure motivation for all morality and religion is simply the imitation of God who is love."

 And in this season where some of us - like me - are experiencing abundance of love and material blessings it is easy to see a God who can be trusted.  But you cannot read the paper and ignore the truth of too many people who have too little.  The situation in Syria is truly horrific and heartbreaking, for example.  But it is more than that - my work at the funeral home is a reminder that for some people this is a very blue and sad Christmas.

When I was serving as a pastor in Bowling Green Ohio I was part of a clergy group that met faithfully every week to talk about our sermons for the coming Sunday.  Bob Versteeg was our convener and truly a mentor to many of us.  I remember him reminding us every Advent that Jesus came for the broken, the hurting, the grieving.  Christ IS for them because it is a picture of light in the darkest times and life that comes despite the work of the enemy.  This is a story that  if we could only experience it with new eyes can give us hope.

God comes to "lift up the lowly" and to turn the world upside down.  Showing us a way of non violence, reconciliation and love healing - that is VERY countercultural - but is where truth and life is found. 

So, my prayers for all of us who are blessed with a comfortable Christmas is that we might continue to seek to imitate the God who is love. And find the ways in which we are called to be a comfort for those who are grieving and a source of hope.   Sometimes it is so hard to see the light in the midst of the darkest times.  Here is a prayer for us all who need to be lifted up.

May it be so.

May God bless you in your BLINDNESS,
when it is impossible to see in spite of all your looking,
may God bless you with the ability to envision a better world and to visualize a healed creation.
May you be given the gift of prophecy as you share your vision with all who surround you.
May you help others to see by your touch of compassion and your word of encouragement.
May the God of VISION  bless you.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Dream Giver

One of the texts for today is the story of from Genesis of Joseph whose dreams created a conflict with his brothers, got him out of jail and led him to become the second most powerful man in Egypt.  This is the beginning of that story:

This is the story of the family of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was a helper to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father's wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.

Once Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. He said to them, “Listen to this dream that I dreamed. There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright; then your sheaves gathered around it, and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Are you indeed to have dominion over us?” So they hated him even more because of his dreams and his words. He had another dream, and told it to his brothers, saying, “Look, I have had another dream: the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him, and said to him, “What kind of dream is this that you have had? Shall we indeed come, I and your mother and your brothers, and bow to the ground before you?” So his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.


Last night I atttended my dream group and once again was awed by the way that dreams bring us great insight.  Tremendous insight - if we pay attention to them.  In our meetings we spend about 45 minutes to an hour discussing one person's dream.  For the one who shares, it can be pretty vulnerable because we often are revealing more than we realize.  What I experienced last night was that the dreams spoke to unresolved feelings of the past, situations in the present, and also an overarching look at the whole of a person's life. 

 The reality is that most of us do not have the opportunity to spend that kind of time of a dream.  But really,  most of us do not take the dreams seriously enough to even write them down - let alone play with them, pray with them and share them with others.  And that is the people who understand the value and the gift of dreams -many people dismiss them as "something I ate."

 In the Bible story of Joseph in the old testament and the new testament, dreams are the impetus for important decisions. It was in a dream that Joseph knew he should marry Mary and care for the child and then in a dream he saw a message to leave Israel and go to Egypt for a while. 

As always I read this and ponder it and just hear that same message - pay attention. One person last night in reflecting back to the dreamer referred to "The Dream Giver." What a wonderful description of God.  The dreams seem so insubstantial and open to interpretation and full of mystery.  And yet God is moving us and changing our conditions and our world if we are paying attention.  

Here is a blessing for today from Maxine Shonk

May you be blessed by the God of DREAMS 

With all the dreamers who have gone before, may you come to trust in God's dream for you.

May you open yourself to become what God envisioned at your birth

and may you have the courage to live into the reflection of god that you are.

May the God of  DREAMS be with you.




Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Children of Promise

The scriptures for today are a lot to chew on - the story of Hagar and Sarah and the birth of their two sons - Ishmael and Isaac.  There is so much in these that I could write about.  I found myself led to the reading from Galatians 4: 21-31 which references this and gets to the bottom line - which is that we are the "children of promise."

I see this whole story as a is metaphor or allegory for a God who wants to be in relationship with creation and in the story of the call of Abraham enacts the "call and response" that is our lives.  He promised new life  - and the birth of a child - where there was no life and no imaginable possibility of life for an old couple well beyond the child bearing years.  Abraham and Sarah could not quite trust this promise and engaged Hagar - a slave - as a surrogate.  Which led to the birth of Ishmael and chaos and conflict which ensued.

All of this exemplifies how difficult it is for all of us to wait for what is the promised life that God desires to give to us.  And how easy it is for us to try to "make something happen" on our own which causes problems.  In Galatians, Paul is encouraging people to see themselves as children of promise. "We are not children of the slave woman but of the free woman."

What I struggle with in this is the potential for any kind of interpretation that leads us to excluding others as lesser than or not called.  I see the overarching story is about the creator who only wants creation to know its identity as children of the promise. .  To go back to the text from a few days ago - "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

And so what it means to me to be a child of the promise is to experience the grace of God - constantly. And the spiritual journey is tasting the grace - living attentively to see and savor these moments where we have glimpsed God's presence.  As my life has slowed down I feel more aware of the daily blessings - time with children and grandchildren, a meal prepared by my sweet husband, the sharing of life with dear friends, and even the beauty of an icy december morning with crows in the front yard.

This identity as a child of promise has a "both - and" to it for me.  It is about who I am and what is happening in this moment and then there is this promise of something more.  And that keeps me faithful through the messes that we all make because we can't quite trust the promise.

Here's  a quote for today
The spiritual journey
is a process that happens to us.
We don't do it.
The Mystery simply unfolds of itself
 - Thomas Keating.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Open Your Heart

One of the texts for today is   John 3: 31-36

The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks about earthly things.
 The one who comes from heaven is above all. 
He testifies to what he has seen and heard, yet no one accepts his testimony. 
Whoever has accepted his testimony has certified this, that God is true. 
He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure.
 The Father loves the Son and has placed all things in his hands.
 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God's wrath.

I think the word "believes" in this is so tricky - because it always seems like intellectual assent.  Instead I like to think of this phrase - "whoever opens their heart."  There is, in faith, a leap of faith where at some point  we choose to trust in God's presence and to following the "way" of Jesus. In the evangelical  tradition there is often a moment of "being saved" (born again) and giving our life to the Lord.  I remember going to the Jerry Falwell Museum in Lynchburg Virginia and that date was displayed because it was so pivotal.

My experience is that faith is a series of those moments of awareness coupled with times of decision.  And "opening our hearts" is as good of a term to describe it.  We open our heart and receive the spirit that guides us in forgiveness, peacemaking, and just plain loving life.  But it also means we give up our plans and our control.

I have a picture that Wendy gave me that is in my prayer room and it says this:


What I keep finding is that when I finally do open my heart - or say yes again - what is waiting for me is richer life - feeling more deeply both joy and sorrow.  And I have a greater awareness of God's blessings in the midst of the mess that is me, the trials of people I love , the grave concerns I have for our country and the world.  I wish I could stay in that place of openheartedness but it doesn't take long for the defense, the distractions, the denials, to close me up again.

It is almost as if we open the door to God and then close it again.  And the good news is that God keeps knocking no matter what.  In the book Soulcraft Bill Plotkin includes this poem by Adrienne Rich:

Either you will
go through this door
or you will not go through.

If you go through
there is always the risk
of remembering your name.

Things look at you doubly
and you must look back
and let them happen.

If you do not go through
it is possible
to live worthily

to maintain your attitudes
to hold your position
to die bravely

but much will blind you,
much will evade you,
at what cost who knows?

The door itself
makes no promises,
it is only a door.


Thursday, December 15, 2016


One of the texts of today is very familiar.  From Galatians, the words of Paul:

Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith.
 But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 
As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise.

This is describing the unity of all believers - and that we are all loved by God.  Equally.  What I noticed this morning was the word - belong. In some sense I think the idea of "unity" is almost an intellectual idea.  But the word "Belong" seems to touch something deeper in me.  More than an abstract idea - but a heart and soul felt experience.  I belong to Christ.  There is a place for me here and I am more than a welcomed guest- I am a part of the family.

Sometimes I am made aware of how much my life has been a search for belonging.  Whether it was in grade school - wanting to be part of a group of friends where I belonged, or wanting to be in a relationship where I belonged with someone, or finding a career and colleagues and church where I belonged.  I know that not everyone is like me - but that has underneath everything been an important thread in my life.  Finding belonging.

And so these words from Paul speak to a deep longing in me.  This morning I was reading The Grace in Living (Kathleen Dowling Singh) who  writes about the spiritual journey.  She quotes a poem from William Blake
     And we are put on earth
a little space,
to learn to bear
the beams of love.

She writes "the spiritual journey goes from love to love."  This really struck me because I have frequently said that to people who were dying.  There have been times that person is surrounded by family and I assure them that we go "from love (on earth) to love (in heaven)".  But today I pondered that we come from love to love.  In other words,  as we experience that  we belong to Christ we begin to recognize  what Thomas Merton calls "the deep secret pull of the gravitation of love."

And so this Advent season, my prayer is for deeper awareness of belonging to the one who formed us in love and created us for love.  And in that precious identity we can only accept everyone else just as they are.

A Blessing for today
May you be blessed by the God of LOVE whose greatest desire is to be one with you.
May you draw close and know the thrill of God;s beating heart against your own.
May this Lover God be a listening presence in every word and thought and experience of your existence.
may the fire and passion of God's love for you move you to be a compassionate and loving presence to all you meet.
May the God of LOVE be with you.