Burning the candle…

Following Henry’s example

I’m not so swift at getting the hint, so my body has to slow me down sometimes. Whatever it was that hit me in the night, it forced me to stay home and sleeeeeeeppp… (which is what I am about to go do after I finish typing this post.)

The fascinating question always is… if I know that I am running on fumes, why don’t I stop sooner and get some rest?

Good question. Because I think I have to, I guess.

But I don’t. I really don’t.

The agency will spin on without me. The sun will rise and set without my supervision. My body, however, will insist that I REST if I do not listen to its little cues.

Burning the candle at both ends is not the model Christ taught. It’s not the model Paul taught. It’s not the model modern-day saints like St. Teresa of Calcutta taught:

“To keep a lamp burning, we have to keep putting oil in it.” -St. Teresa of Calcutta

My lamp was pretty empty this week, for a variety of reasons. But TBTG that I listened and called in sick today. Because rest is as rejuvenating as work is for this extrovert.

Streams in the desert

I’m returning to a spiritual discipline from days past, using my camera to see the world in a more mindful way. My intent is to bring images of hope and faith to the forefront in my life.

When I saw this dry, dusty hillside… I knew what scripture spoke to me.

I am about to do something new. It is beginning to happen even now. Don’t you see it coming? I am going to make a way for you to go through the desert. I will make streams of water in the dry and empty land.
Isaiah 43:19 NRSV

The Lure of the Dragon Hoard

One cannot collect all the beautiful shells on the beach. One can collect only a few, and they are more beautiful if they are few.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea. p. 106
A collection of sea shells drying on a countertop.

When we went on family trips to the beach, one of our least favorite tasks (besides leaving!) was choosing only the very best shells to take home. It meant going over each one, one by one. Which edge was perfect? Which colors were the most striking? Which bivalve had a full hinge? Each of us had to weed down until we only had the perfect ones. Then we had to repeat the process until we filled our allotted containers.

I am sure by the time I was old enough to collect shells, my family had already accumulated buckets of them. Mom patiently waited while we sorted and agonized over the bits of shell and sharks’ teeth. Couldn’t we take them all??? No… Just this much. It was a lesson in appreciating the best we could find. On setting limits. On not making acquisition of stuff a goal in life.

It struck me recently, as I have weeded out books, materials, and other resources to consolidate my church office into my home office, that I was re-learning this lesson of sorting shells. I gave away books. I recycled boxes full of old print-outs, bulletins, and teaching materials. (Perhaps it is a sign of my generation, but keeping paper copies is like a security blanket. I don’t really need them. But I want them.)

a box of yarn

While sometimes I joke about my dragon hoard of craft materials, the truth is, I will probably spend the rest of my life using up the supplies that I have! (Of course, it does not help when someone offers me some yarn, or fabric, or other tempting items, and I respond, “Yes! Sure!” I’m still learning this lesson, apparently!)

What is enough? What is too much? What can I give away, give back, pay forward… the questions have been on my mind for several weeks. I realized where I am stuck. Because when I feel the “keep it!!” feeling come over me, much like that young girl sorting shells so many years ago, it is that anxiety that I don’t have enough. I might “need” more!

Perhaps the clue is going back to the teachings of Christ.

27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. 30 For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

Luke 12:27-31, NRSV

What drives this desire to keep everything??? Anxiousness. Fear. Insecurity. What makes me want to keep everything the same, to be so resistant to change?? What makes me want to be controlling and not roll with life’s latest crises? Distrust. Uncertainty. Worry. And… if I’m honest… Greed. Lust. Pride.

In a time of great unrest, perhaps being willing to let go of one small thing makes it easier to cope with the bigger challenges we humans face. Perhaps not striving to hold on to power or wealth or STUFF would result in less conflict, less angst, less unrest… less war… less abuse… less violence… Isn’t that what Christ is asking us?

So as you chew on that, I offer this beautiful piece of music. It helps me focus and remember it’s what we do for Eternity that really matters.

Blessed be. sdg

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Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini. Hosanna in excelsis!

The Benedictus from The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace by Sir Karl Jenkins

Grace upon grace

In her commentary on the Gospel of John, Dr. Karoline Lewis uses a phrase that has become a mantra of hope and encouragement to me:

“Grace upon grace…”

What does grace upon grace sound like? It sounds like when you are deader than dead and you hear your name being called, by the shepherd who knows you and loves you, and you are then able to walk out of that tomb, unbound to rest at the bosom of Jesus. Dr. Karoline M. Lewis, John: (Fortress Preaching Biblical Commentaries.) © 2014 Fortress Press. Minneapolis. p. 160.

These last few weeks I have needed extra touches of God’s Grace. With our church, Twinbrook Baptist, making the decision to sell our building, and gift out the proceeds rather than spend down our resources, there’s been a mixed bag of feelings. At times, my joy has been “deader than dead” but then God’s grace appears and restores me.

I’ve watched my friend and pastor, Jill, and our church leadership respond with honest, heartfelt feelings – but also serve with open-hearted kindness and grace. We have embraced hope. We’ve laughed. We have worshiped with joy. We have reminded ourselves that we are Resurrection people. We have hugged and reassured. We’ve bitched (a little — just human!) And we’ve cried. When I took the last boxes home from my church office on Sunday after worship, the tears flowed down my cheeks.

But grace… Grace has never been far away. God has shown up in a number of grace-filled ways.

I found this photo this morning, snapped unintentionally by my smartphone as I headed home from working out last night. I totally missed it at the time. I was intent on getting a shower and doing some charting. This vista, this contrast of light and dark brought hope and encouragement. The beauty is there, ready to proclaim God’s glory. Do I notice?

“Grace upon grace…”

To provide a backdrop for a sermon on hospitality by Pastor Jill McCrory, I brought this quilt, a family heirloom, to use for the communion table. Its presence on the altar immediately provoked stories and sweet memories by congregants. Who knew this “grandmother’s flower garden” would provide joy and comfort for our last regular worship service? I just pulled it out as a whim. God knew.

“Grace upon grace…”

 I tried to have a healthy snack and boost to my lunch today, so I stopped to get a protein smoothie. Banana-strawberry. Mmmmm… Except the lid was not on tightly and it decorated my white pants! The employee who served my smoothie was embarrassed because she saw what had happened. I frantically tried to clean up the splotches with napkins. She ran to the back of the store and came out with a stain remover pen. “Here! Take this!” I went to my car, mopped up the stain, and brought it back, profusely thankful. She wouldn’t take a tip. So I told her manager how grateful I was and that she needed a bonus.

“Grace upon grace…”

I’m sure there will be more examples. Now I’m more aware of what the Grace of God can do in my boring, everyday, grumpy life. Maybe yours, too?

I’m being intentional. Mindful. Looking for grace every moment. Focusing on the things that show love and joy and faithfulness. Taking a short, private cussing break when the feelings overflow. (Like I said… just being real!) Looking up to see… God. There. Always.

Lauren Daigle wrote a song that is on my “repeat” playlist right now. It’s keeping me going… a love song from God reminding me to Look Up Child.

Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and through it many become defiled. Hebrews 12:14-15

So may it be.

sdg

Cross-Posting: Journeying

This prayer was first posted on the RevGalBlogPals site, a collaborative and supportive network of women clergy and their friends. On the “even” months of the year, I write a prayer for Fridays. Sometimes they are more liturgical in nature, sometimes they reflect the world and its hurts. But most of the time, they echo my own spiritual journey.

A week from tomorrow, the progressive Baptist church where I have been serving these last three and a half years is closing and selling the property to another congregation. For the last eighteen months, the church was not able to pay me. I stayed, as I was there on a minimal, part-time basis anyway, and had full-time employment as a hospice chaplain. Besides, they were my community, my church family, my friends. You don’t walk away from your friends who will be experiencing a death – in this case, the death of a church. (Ok – you CAN walk away, but not for any reason other than selfish ones.)

Now as we round the final turn towards the church closing, I am wrestling with all sorts of questions: Where will I go to church? Where will I find a place to serve? What is ahead for me in ministry? Do I stay in my work as a hospice chaplain, or pursue a full-time placement in a congregation? 

These are all unknowns. And I don’t really need the answers today. Where I will be this week is in the liminal space of the now and the not yet. If I am honest, it is every week of my life, But this week, with the pending change before me, it is more glaring, more challenging.

So I wrote this prayer for my friends at RevGals who may be in a similar space. But I wrote primarily for me as I walk this road with Christ.

SDG

Deb


Looking down a country road, bordered by trees.

Holy One,

The way ahead seems lonely at times, and I fear the unknown…

But You sing,
I AM with you, I am with you always. I will not leave you abandoned.

The silence is awkward at times, and I worry I am missing something…

But you whisper,
I AM calling, I am calling to you in this wilderness. I will make your paths straight.

I am impatient at times as I peer ahead to see what is just over the hill, just out of sight, wanting the future NOW…

And you say,
I AM, I am the same yesterday, today, and forever. 

And I know that I know that you ARE, you are with me.

Thank you. Blessed be.
Amen.

Book Review: Love, God

Love, God by Deborah J. Simmons-Roslak and Linda J. Orber. Resource Publications; Wipf and Stock Publishers. Paperback. 179 pages. (c) 2018. ISBN: 978-1-5326-1750-8


Love, God is a devotional book. The format is simple and should work well, in theory. First, it uses quotes from various writers and philosophers to begin each entry. Next is a short reflection on the topic of the day, followed by a scripture verse. Following the reflection, each day’s devotional has a “word from God” in the form of an affirmation to the reader, followed by a guided meditation. Finally, there is space at the end of each day to write a personal reflection.

In theory, this is an excellent format. I had high hopes for this book because it is hard to find a daily devotional book that is not insipid or shallow in its content. In its design, there are many aspects that I endorse wholeheartedly. But I found that what it was missing took away from the content and the work of the editors/authors.

The book has several drawbacks. First, there is no table of contents, and no  index of authors, scriptures or topics. In addition, the quoted authors’ work is not cited nor footnoted, so the reader can’t look up the quote in context. And, it is considered good scholarship to always cite one’s sources. I can also imagine wanting to go back and find a particular quote or meditation, and have to scan every page until I did. 

I was also stunned at the “Bibliography” and its lack of published works. It lists only websites such as azquotes, brainyquotes, goodreads and… Pinterest. PINTEREST? Yes. Pinterest. If I had a college student submit something to me with this level of scholarship, I’d flunk them. And if I were presenting this material for a group devotional time, I would want to be able to share where the content is published.

The authors and philosophers who are quoted represent a cross-section of Christianity from the more traditional school of thought. Thomas Merton (6 entries), Meister Eckhart (4 entries), and Anthony de Mello (3 entries) are among the more familiar. Inspirational selections are also included from writers outside of Christendom such as Rumi, Gantama Buddha and Swami Vivekananda. 

Scripture passages were taken from the NIV and New American Bibles. As a result the phrasing is a little stilted, and God is always gendered as male. (I have years of practice overlooking this shortfall, but as a reviewer, I feel I need to mention this.) 

If one can overlook these shortcomings (which I do not consider trivial), the overriding theme of the book is one of Divine acceptance and welcome. In a world where God is used to judge, incarcerate and divide us, I welcome the opportunity to hear words of affirmation and comfort.

I recommend this book with the caveat that the lack of citations and indexing can hamper the fullest application of its intended use. Perhaps in future editions, the publisher will require an update. 


Disclosure of Material Connection: I was provided this book without cost from the publisher and was not required to give a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

A prayer beyond “thoughts and prayers”

prayercandle
Holy One,

Your children cry out to you,
in anger,
in fear,
in frustration,
in terror,
as we face, together, more gun violence in our country.

For everyone killed in the senseless violence yesterday,
May their families be comforted in the face of overwhelming grief,
Lord, hear our prayer.

For everyone wounded and in shock,
May Your Presence overwhelm their unbearable fear,
and comfort those in pain.
Lord, hear our prayer.

For all who are retraumatized and saturated with their anxiety
and real terror as they relive horrible events in their past,
may they be surrounded by friends and family who bring Your hope and peace.
Lord, hear our prayer.

For politicians who have cared more about contributions than human lives,
May your righteousness weigh heavily on their hearts,
and may they hear your Call to service, not only to re-election.
Lord, hear our prayer.

For our children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews,
who deserve a childhood without mass shootings
and face fear in their classrooms,
May you shelter them and reassurance them by your Presence,
and bring caring adults around them for support.
Lord, hear our prayer.

For Your Church, Lord,
for we have turned our eyes away,
or offered half-hearted thoughts and prayers,
May we stand up to those who preach freedom over faith.
May we declare that all persons are valuable and deserving of protection.
May we minister Christ’s justice, peace, and reconciliation.
May we vote our convictions and listen to Your Holy Spirit.
Lord, hear our prayer.

AMEN.


(c) 2019 Rev. Deborah Vaughn. You are welcome to use this prayer with attribution. SDG