Friday, November 30, 2012

Mama always had a way of explaining things so I could understand them.

He that doeth these things shall never be moved.  Psalm 15:5

Our actions have consequences.  And living a good decent life of grace and integrity pays off.  It’s not a promise of gold gilt wealth and fame, rather it’s a sturdy contentedness.  Pretty straightforward, cross-cultural descriptors: walk uprightly, speak truth, backbite not, don’t bear grudges, condemn what is vile, praise what honors God, keep your promises even if it hurts, and don’t make money from the poor or innocent.  

We told Giovanni that part of American Thanksgiving traditions was watching old happy movies together; I was thinking along the lines of It’s a Wonderful LIfe, but he chose Forrest Gump.  But really it’s the same thing.  Being faithful in the small things: I'm not a smart man... but I know what love is.  

And as that last feather floats over the garden and trees we all know that we have been reminded about what is good and true, and who will not be moved no matter what the circumstances.  A sturdy contentedness.  

 Little Forrest, he's doing just fine. About to start school again soon. I make his breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day. I make sure he combs his hair and brushes his teeth every day. Teaching him how to play ping pong. He's really good. We fish a lot. And every night, we read a book.

And it’s kind of silly, but a little encouraging.  So today, as I was bringing up the rear of yet another kick set on swim team, the lane leader made a declaration.  You know everyone, I thought of a nickname for Christy.  And I winced inside, because I am the very worst swimmer in the lane in every sense of the word and most of the comments directed at me have to do with the need for me to lengthen my stroke and to not look at the bottom of the pool when I do my flip turns even if it keeps water from going up my nose and that sort of thing.  Sunshine.  We’re going to call her Sunshine.  

Which as I said is kind of silly, but really when faced with a pretty crabby coach every morning and sometimes the cement is icy and I’m always a little bit behind and sometimes I even get lapped, but I am always there, every morning at 5:25 a.m., and I guess that is what counts sometimes.  Whenever I look at her she is smiling no matter what and it makes me happy. Kick sets are when I am praying for everyone, so of course I am smiling. A sturdy contentedness is what we have been promised. 

Lieutenant Dan got me invested in some kind of fruit company. So then I got a call from him, saying we don't have to worry about money no more. And I said, that's good! One less thing.

In deepest solitude there is a road right out of the self

The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Psalm 14:2-3

Indeed we have all become filthy, the sort of playing about in the sewage sort of filthy. My perspective, priorities and habits have all become encrusted with those of a broken world.    Selfish, judgmental, and hopeless thoughts abound, and I chase them about my mind in futility, sort of like chasing those big creepy drainage pipe cockroaches with a feather duster.  

Or worse, I merely shrug.  I have grown accustomed. Permeated with the stench.  My eyes have adjusted to the shadowed lowercase truth.

Oh woe is me.  Exactly.

The trudging marks my footsteps.  Bleak follows bleak.  I have lost my sense of glory and wonder.  

One of the last lines, or the last line, or anyways, it has been many, many years since I have read and reread the book Christy, but I certainly packed away and will never forget the line, “The joy of the children was in his voice.”  Dr. McNeil had lost his light in the feudal backlands of the Appalachians.  Anger or disappointment at man and God bubbled through his dedication and good deeds like so many sulphuric gas bubbles rising up from the thick black mud at the bottom of a meadow lake.  Not noticing the sunlit children dabbling along the shoreline, laughing and calling out loud to each other as they raced across the tossing meadow.

Which brings to mind C. S. Lewis.  Surprise.  

Surprised by Joy.  

“Really, a young Atheist cannot guard his faith too carefully. Dangers lie in wait for him on every side. All my acts, desires, and thoughts were to be brought into harmony with universal Spirit. For the first time I examined myself with a seriously practical purpose. And there I found what appalled me; a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a harem of fondled hatreds. My name was legion.”

“I was still young and the whole world of beauty was opening before me, my own officious obstructions were often swept aside and, startled into self-forgetfulness, I again tasted Joy.”

“I was driven to Whipsnade one sunny morning. When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did. Yet I had not exactly spent the journey in thought. Nor in great emotion. “Emotional” is perhaps the last word we can apply to some of the most important events. It was more like when a man, after a long sleep, still lying motionless in bed, becomes aware that he is now awake.”

“I had been…wrong in supposing that I desired Joy itself. Joy itself, considered simply as an event in my own mind, turned to be no value at all. All the value lay in that of which Joy was the desiring. And that object, quite clearly, was no state of my own mind or body at all. In a way, I had proved this by elimination. I had tried everything in my own mind and body; as it were, asking myself, ‘Is it this you want? Is it this?’ Last of all I had asked if Joy itself was what I wanted; and, labeling it ‘aesthetic experience,’ had pretended I could answer Yes. But that answer too had broken down. Inexorably Joy proclaimed, ‘You want – I myself am your want of – something other, outside, not you nor any state of you.’ I did not yet ask, Who is the desired? only What is it? But this brought me already into the region of awe, for I thus understood that in deepest solitude there is a road right out of the self, a commerce with something which, by refusing to identify itself with any object of the senses, or anything whereof we have biological or social need, or anything imagined, or any state of our own minds, proclaims itself sheerly objective. Far more objective than bodies, for it is not, like them, clothed in our senses; the naked Other, imageless (though our imagination salutes it with a hundred images), unknown, undefined, desired.”

“Who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape? The words compelle intrare, compel them to come in, have been so abused by wicked men that we shudder at them; but, properly understood, they plumb the depth of the Divine mercy. The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of man, and His compulsion is our liberation.”

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

When the battle is most fierce

Look on me and answer, O Lord, my God.  Or the one who hates me will say, “I have power over him.” And those who hate me will be happy when I am shaken. Psalm 13:3-4

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Ephesians 6:12

This shield of faith, an upward looking expectancy, is what protects me from the fiery darts hurled at me incessantly.  From the Enemy, not from the One Who Loves Me.  And last night we were marveling that it really never gets particularly easier.  All of had somehow absorbed the fairy tale of “happily ever after,” that at some time this powerful wisdom and strength and experience would kick in and life would be smooth sailing.  But somehow things just seem more complex and overwhelming.  Youth is pretty simplistic and responsibility, whew, is not.  

Moses experienced this in battle.   And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed.  Things did not get easy for even Moses, the one called by God to lead His people.  But he, like me, had those to whom to turn.  When Moses' hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up--one on one side, one on the other--so that his hands remained steady.  And when the shield becomes heavy, and the attack fierce, those around me also step forward, to my side, and do the heavy lifting.  

And sometimes the lifting is encouraging words or a big cup of steaming hot coffee.  But mostly it’s bowing our knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that He would grant us, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith; that we, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passes knowledge, that we might be filled with all the fullness of God.

And as we gathered together, He was in our midst.  And the fog cleared and hope shone through.  

But I have trusted in Your loving-kindness. My heart will be full of joy because You will save me. I will sing to the Lord, because He has been good to me. And the path ahead is not easy, nor will it ever be.  Nor should it be, lest I cease the upward longing to Him who is good to me.  To us.

Put another log on the fire

In the Lord put I my trust: how say ye to my soul, Flee as a bird to your mountain? Psalm 11:7

In the background of now, my dad is reading John 14 out loud, William Short is giving his word game on NPR radio, and the St. Francis fountain is dribbling.

And even though I am achingly exhausted, I will not flee.  My trust is in the LORD, I will not be afraid.  One day at a time, I will not be afraid.  

When Thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto Thee, Thy face, LORD, will I seek.

. . . . 

The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. Psalm 12:6

One can consider that the purifying fire is the lives of the saints, a furnace of earth, and the raging trials burn out the dross and leave what is True and Pure, the Word of the LORD.  

And how these words echo across the generations and over the rivers and the seas and under the sun and the moon and the stars offering insight and healing to many an aching soul.  Even the One stretched up in love. Especially.  

My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?  O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent.  Psalm 22:1-2

And yet the Psalm is entitled: A Cry of Anguish and Song of Praise

The meek shall eat and be satisfied: they shall praise the LORD that seek Him: your heart shall live for ever. All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the LORD: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before Thee.  Psalm 22:26-27

Because of that great love.  Poured out like water.  

Be satisfied, oh my soul.  Praise the LORD. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Nothing half so good as a lovely read in the glorious Saturday sun

For the wicked boasteth of his heart's desire, and blesseth the covetous, whom the Lord abhorreth. Psalm 10:3

Someone spoke of the irony of the Americans who spend one day enumerating that for which they are thankful, and the next scrabbling for that what they do not have.  

The LORD hates it when we are not content with Him.  And His gifts.  LORD may I be deeply satisfied with my lot in life, that which You have cast for me, in Your love and kindness.  

Yesterday one of those ex-seventh graders showed up on my doorstep, in all six foot four gangliness, wanting advise about the rest of his life, and more specifically what to do during a self-imposed break from his studies to find meaning and purpose.  

He leaned in close and looked me in the eye.  Mrs. Voelkel, have you found fulfillment and your life’s calling?  

And I had to smile, because I had just pulled out my regular suggestion list of Guatemala, South Africa, Dominican Republic, Bolivia, Kenya: pick a country, any country; we all know that I suffer from restless heart sometimes, longing to pack up a very small bag with maybe an expresso pot, my Mac and an extra pair of socks, and take my own advice.  This guy knows that for both us the Mexicali trips were defining moments of joy where we both stepped into the very most loose and easy stride.  

You’re a secretary, an answer-the-phone and manage mailing lists secretary?  Yep.

And yet.  When I push back the curtain of murmuring which so inflicts the human race and consider His goodness– – – the list is long and deep.  And the beauty of community.  I had just finished answering two emails from Steven running health centers in South Sudan, and in one sense, I am there with him. And funny Katya is doing advertising with Olgivy and Mather in the Ukraine.  And Dana sent me another one of his stories. And a lovely thank you note from New York City.  And skyping with Andrea and Max.  And that cute Chinese Physics student is out there chopping wood to earn money for Urbana. And.  

I answered, “Yes.”  And maybe my life’s calling is just standing on the sideline cheering, and handing out cold cups of water.  But what a fulfilling race, with the weight of glory.

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you say it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - These are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors... Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.”

“To please God… to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness… to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son- it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is.” 

“And that is enough to raise your thoughts to what may happen when the redeemed soul, beyond all hope and nearly beyond belief, learns at last that she has pleased Him whom she was created to please. There will be no room for vanity then. She will be free from the miserable illusion that it is her doing. With no taint of what we should now call self-approval she will most innocently rejoice in the thing that God has made her to be, and the moment which heals her old inferiority complex forever will also drown her pride… Perfect humility dispenses with modesty.” 

“It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor's glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. ... 

“...the sun looks down on nothing half so good as a household laughing together over a meal, or two friends talking over a pint of beer, or a man alone reading a book that interests him..." 

- C.S. Lewis: Weight of Glory

After second servings of salty carmel ice cream in a rose garden

Arise, O Lord,
Do not let man prevail;
Let the nations be judged in Your sight.

Put them in fear, O Lord,
That the nations may know themselves to be but men.
Selah  Psalm 9:19-20

As I reflect upon and savor the many gifts of God, my mind and heart and soul turn to what is truly to be praised– the LORD God in all of His goodness and mercy and grace and power and justice. We are but men.  Glory be to His name.

Well, just one more spoonful of the ice cream

O LORD, our Lord, how excellent is Thy name in all the earth! 
Who hast set thy glory above the heavens. 
When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which Thou hast ordained;
What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? 
And the son of man, that Thou visitest him? 
For Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Psalm 8: 1-5

So last night we bundled off to Karuna’s and happily shared coconut soup and pad thai and red curry.  And marveled at the Thai temple spire photos.  Which brought to mind some stunning Chinese architecture courtesy of the Atlanticand Marco’s visions of China through a camera lens. And then Nicole’s four months in Indonesia.  To say nothing of the girls’ new community of Pinterest and the artistic marvels thus ordered and stacked electronically.   And really just listening to Heather describe how very happy happy Dustin is to be able to fix up her bike and lift the handlebars and rearrange the gearshift.  And sketches galore are spilling out of his pen about a new maybe project down the street. And then just before the run around Reid Park the girls discuss whether we should make pumpkin cheesecake or mocha chocolate cheesecake to go with the Angie’s salty carmel ice cream and why not both, after we gobble the brined turkey, the jalapeño sweet potatoes and the everything-but-the-kitchen sink gingerbread-cranberry-walnut-sage stuffing. Yet all of this crazy wild creativity and beauty is just a reflection and verification of our genealogy, that we are image bearers. 

O LORD, our Lord, how excellent is Thy name in all the earth!

From there we went to the Victory Elevate service at the U of A which was a little thin since its Thanksgiving Break and everyone is home doing laundry and watching football games.  And really, if I were a little more clever and a lot wittier, I could have done the same teaching, Attitude of Gratitude.  But even if we have heard it all before, it is The Truth.  Because I have of course been thinking lately about what made David “a man after God’s own heart." And I am pretty sure that this is it.  David frames the before and after of all of his conversations with God with the statement of truth: O LORD, our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! 

And Jesus, just before he broke up the seven loaves to divide up amongst the thousands, before it miraculously multiplied like so many fluffy rabbits, gave thanks.  Not afterwards.  Before.  Not give thanks FOR all things, rather we are told to give thanks IN all things.  Which is different.  In the midst of it all, in all of those temptations which are common to man, I shall offer up thanks.  And in the same night that he was betrayed, he too broke the bread, and gave thanks in all things.   

328. For such a dorky swim coach as to make us gobble when we swim our twenty-five sprints.  
329. Can I be grateful again for Panchita and all the neatly labeled jars in my cupboard?
330. For Reid Park and that it is so very fun to see people running around and up and through it, even if I don’t go with them.
331. For the big box of twelve varietal Italians wines that arrived with special directions for each to be explained by Giovanni.   
332. That the ceasefire in Israel and Gaza is still holding even after twenty-four hours.  

O LORD, our Lord, how excellent is Thy name in all the earth!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A God Who feels indignation every day

O Lord my God, in You do I take refuge;
save me from all my pursuers and deliver me,
lest like a lion they tear my soul apart,
rending it in pieces, with none to deliver.  Psalm 7:1-2

Last night I read Kathleen Norris’ introduction to The Psalms in which she lays out an impassioned rationale for reading the Psalms in the King James version of Scriptures.  The wide range of expression in the Psalter–the anger and pain of lament, the anguished self-probing of confession, the grateful fervor of thanksgiving, the ecstatic joy of praise–allow us to bring our whole lives before God.  For her, this translation is a story about the power and primacy of vivid language and pleasurable speech, words that hold the attention of the ear and provide physical imagines pleasing to the mind’s eye...and something about King James’s English cuts across the human constructs of cultural and theological barriers–a cure for literalism, a bracing reminder of poetry’s ability to counter ideology in any age. 

And while my daily pursuers do not bear swords and spears, the effect is the same.  So very much in my world is set upon soul destruction–empty distractions, broken communication, careless selfishness, unnamed fears–in Him I must take refuge.  

And in His justice.  Or my soul would be torn apart. Because wicked man conceives evil and is pregnant with mischief and gives birth to lies, myself included.  

My shield is with God,
who saves the upright in heart.
God is a righteous judge,
and a God who feels indignation every day.

And the depth of Truth of the Psalms.  In the Psalms we find a genuine community with our human past.  The realism of the Psalms flies in the face of much contemporary spirituality that presupposes a golden age in the past to which only the enlightened may aspire in the present.  C. S. Lewis says, No historical readjustment is required.  We are in the world we know.

And when it is all said and done.  When my soul is done listing its grievances and inequities to the God who sees, who grieves deeply at the brokenness of His beloved world and who will stop at nothing to bring redemption and restoration, I can at that moment step into His righteousness, the shadow of His wings and release.

I will give to the Lord the thanks due to His righteousness,
and I will sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High.

When the darkness closes in

But You, O Lord—how long?  Psalm 6:3

Yesterday I led a devotions at work for our monthly staff meeting.  And the book we are working through...something like “Diary of a Desperate Man,” asked, “What is the hardest thing God could ask of you?”  

And the examples were of Abraham offering up Isaac, and good old Elijah, which I just read in one sitting last week, and there were no end of hard things that God flat out told Elijah to do.  I really did not want to go into the dreaded unnamed questions we might be called upon to answer, “Speak, LORD, your servant is listening.”  So the folks around the table shared hard bleak moments that God had led them through, except, like Joseph’s inexplicable years in prison, these were not just moments.  But long dark nights, long Daniel-in-his-lions’-den-nights when, each of us shared this cry of David, “But You, O Lord—how long?

And sometimes, like Joseph, we get to share the backside of the story, the ever-after side of the story, and sometimes, we simply don’t.  The dawn sorts of leaks in through the windows, we get up, brush our teeth and wonder.  But His steadfast love led us through the shadowed valley.  And that truth girds our loins for the next moment.  And the next.  Because those dreaded unnamed moments are waiting for us, part of the story, the long messy story of redemption.

How long? How long must we sing this song? 
How long? How long?
And it's true we are immune
When fact is fiction and TV reality
And today the millions cry
We eat and drink while tomorrow they die
The real battle yet begun
[Sunday, bloody Sunday]
To claim the victory Jesus won
[Sunday, bloody Sunday]
On Sunday, bloody Sunday

Still I will say, Blessed be the name of the LORD.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The abundance of Your steadfast love

O Lord, in the morning You hear my voice;
in the morning I direct my prayer to You and watch. Psalm 5:3

I will take my stand at my watchpost
and station myself on the tower,
and look out to see what He will say to me,
and what I will answer concerning my complaint. Habakkuk 2:1

Yesterday as we gathered around the massive cheese and chicken nachos with extra jalapeños at Bisonwiches yesterday after church, we did that thing where we introduce the person next to us to the new guy we met who was absolutely so cool and brilliant and even fun, this Chinese guy who had just sorted through his universe and found Jesus and who was now a double major in global studies and physics at the University of Arizona because they both declare the glory of the LORD.   

And I was introduced as the most spiritually disciplined person ever, who every morning is at it again, directing my prayer to Him and watching for what He will say to me.  

So why is that?  I mean, there are chunks of undisciplined life in me, like I still don’t floss my teeth, and I am married to Mr. Floss-his-teeth-every-night Voelkel and I know it is like the number one factor in keeping one’s teeth and preventing heart disease, or something like that.  And Alan will mutter along with his dentist, “I just floss the teeth I want to keep,” and it still doesn’t move me beyond a day or two of cooperation.  And I will pop handfuls of gummy bears even though I know the short-term result will be a whack of a headache right between the eyes. Why is that?

And “ever” is of course not true since I live next door to Jack and Mary Anne Voelkel, and I am just baby step, baby step in this watching thing, compared to them.  

But why do I do this?  Why do I roll out of bed just before the click of the alarm ding at 4:15 every morning?

The answer that comes to mind is that of Simon Peter when he replies to Jesus, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

This is beyond the eight-year-old girl’s established discipline when I first started reading the Bible every day, and pretty much underlining every single word in the poofy-green-covered Living Bible that I was working through, because to underline it seemed to make it mine.  But the seeds were planted then, with the implication was that it was good for me, like Popeye, the sailor man’s spinach.

This early morning watch is utterly selfish.  

To answer the aching in my soul, the meaning making grasp of what-is-it-all-about.  I so easily stumble.  And Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and light unto my path.  Which is good, but that is not the real reason, simply avoiding stubbed toes and bruised knees.

It’s that seeing what He has to say to me.  He, The Almighty, The Strong One Who Sees, The LORD Will Provide, Shalom, El-Shaddai, the Alpha and Amen, The LORD our banner over me is love.  

Because over and over, tromping through the dark valleys and clambering over the sunlit mountain peaks, I know what I will find, every morning without fail.  He is here, whispering in the stillness, “You are mine, and I am Yours.  My beloved child, welcome.”


You cannot be lost unless you belong

He has taken me to the banquet hall, and his banner over me is love.  Song of Solomon 2:2

The oh-so-familiar song poured out of the open door of the small brick building squeezed in between the Wiccan Shoppe and the Wingspan office on Fourth Avenue.  Let Your banner of love wave over this place, over this street, over this city, over the state.  His banner over you, His banner over me, His banner over us. The same exact song from my dorkiness in Mexico, D.F., forty years ago.  

The heaps of couches and old rugs and throw pillows were familiar as well. Although I was the only grey-haired sort; there was pink, and orange, and white striped and lots of pitch shiny black, all with skinny skinny jeans and skinny t-shirts and lots of tats and twirling happy bodies.  

There is nothing I can but just be loved completely loved by You.  I’m completely loved by you.  Your grace has done it all.  Your love has won it all.

Splashy happy art leap across the walls with the same cheerful abandonment. And there is that same upper room picture which gazes over the Victorian King James cottage last week, and the office of Dr. Eben Alexander in Cambridge, Massachusetts, From where this community took its name, this community that is “pretty blissfully jacked up on the finished work of the Cross growing daily in the revelation of our union with Him and all that Jesus accomplished for us and in our place! Yipee!!!”

Jesus, holy and annointed one, exalted one.  
Your name is like honey on my lips,
Your spirit is water to my soul
You word is a lamp unto my fee
Jesus I love you.  

After an hour of worship, we slid into an hour of teaching from Andre Rabe, from South Africa.  Feel free to get up for bagels and coffee whenever you want.  Things to think about.  Thank You for Your love that isn’t just something to be talked about but is something to live.  

Jesus warns, “Do not miss seeing me in the most wasted life.  Whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me.  Whatever you think of one of these, you think of me.  Whoever says that he loves Me, but hates his neighbor, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”

There is more to the gospel story that that of sin and salvation; we need to remember the bigger context of In the beginning, when I, and each and every person, began in the heart and mind of God.  He knew me, and each and every person, before He formed me and called me by name to be holy and blameless before Him.  His likeness is part of who we are, created in His image, and no amount of darkness can put it out.

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 2:18

And I was convicted to the core.  Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. How many ways can John say it?  What he learned from walking and talking with Jesus?  “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ 

No exceptions.  Mother Teresa got it, Each one of them is Jesus in disguise. As did Tolstoy and my favorite Christmas tale:
Then all at once he knew that he was no longer alone in the room.

This was not dream for he was wide awake. At first he seemed to see before his eyes the long stream of people who had come to him that day. He saw again the old road sweeper, the young mother and her baby and the beggars he had fed. As they passed, each whispered, "Didn't you see me, Papa Panov?"

"Who are you?" he called out, bewildered. 

Then another voice answered him. It was the voice from his dream- the voice of Jesus. 

"I was hungry and you fed me," he said. "I was naked and you clothed me. I was cold and you warmed me. I came to you today in every one of those you helped and welcomed."

Then all was quiet and still. Only the sound of the big clock ticking. A great peace and happiness seemed to fill the room, overflowing Papa Panov's heart until he wanted to burst out singing and laughing and dancing with joy.

"So He did come after all!" was all that he said. 

And may this truth burn in my soul.  That I might know God by welcoming His children.  Each and every one.  

The Father did not say, "You dirty pigsty man.” What brought him home was the sweet, sweet memories of his Father’s home.  He returned to himself, to whom he had been created to be, since the beginning, before time, free at last.  Free at last.  

Saturday, November 17, 2012

In peace I will both lie down and sleep

Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah Psalm 4:4

This angry is the sort of thing that happens all day long.  It means “agitated” or “frustrated,” and lots of things during the day can trigger this anger in my heart and mind, justly or unjustly. 

But.  Do not sin.  Mostly this agitation or frustration leads me down two paths of sin.  Well, three paths.  First, that of unlove.  Man, it’s so easy to label others nicely and neatly like with one of those twirly things with the plastic strips.  Punch it out, peel it off and paste it on their forehead and stick them on a nice tidy shelf of my soul. Tucked away in a dark corner, to be covered with cobwebs and dark creepy things, away from the mercy so freely offered to me by my LORD.  Or worse, sometimes I allow this neatly marked package to fester and rot and stink up my whole life, poisoning not only that particular relationship, but all areas of my life, particularly my relationship with God.  Well am I admonished to leave my gifts to God in front of the altar and first go and be reconciled to my brother; then come and offer my gift.  Because they will not be accepted if I harbor this embittered anger in my soul, fueled by the flames of hell itself.  Hell, by definition, is separation from God.  

Those destructive flames of hell are mentioned elsewhere in the Bible as well.  Those which set ablaze the tongue. Nothing like taking an offense or frustration complete with embellishments and dug deep resentments, and spread this pain far and wide so that it can rot and fester in other souls as well.  Not so good.

The third path of sin is that of ... not resting, not trusting God to be at work through all circumstances with humility and peace.  This is not to say that I am to scramble into a dark passive hole to wait and wait, si Dios quiere.  There is a freedom in the pondering, to mull and to consider, but to be silent in the sense of telling the Almighty exactly where He is screwing up and what in blazes is He thinking of anyway.

Back to my ocean wave of a few days ago, because even more than the energy and excitement of trying to catch a wave into shore, my very favorite playa moments in Costa Rica this summer were the floating moments... drifting, dangling, as the water supported me, gently swaying back and forth in the great potent swelling, in silent confidence.  Selah.  

Friday, November 16, 2012

And we unhemmed all our jeans so they dragged on the floor

But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my Glory, and the Lifter of my head.
I cried aloud to the Lord, and He answered me from his holy hill. Selah Psalm 3:3

One example of the immeasurable and inexplicable good gifts from the hand of our Creator is that of music.  Really the joy and power of song make no scientific material sense and is one of those “outside the box” indicators.  The same pile outside of the humanist door with Shakespeare sonnets and sunsets.  Why should we marvel at sunsets and rainbows?

And on top of that toppling stack of gifts that are waiting to be named and inventoried on my little list of 1000 are the Psalms which have worked their way into the hearts and souls of humanity for eons and bound them together with truth and peace throughout the travails that are common to man. 

My first tiny glimpse of that was as a young girl ripping through Heidi.  What a novel thought that Heidi’s blind grandmother would find such comfort in the twenty-third Psalm.  Novel.  =) Novel in the sense that is what stories do, wrap words around life so that we slow down and notice and remember, forever.  That was forty-six years ago, and I still remember pausing for that moment, to consider.  

My old Bible that was left behind on a seventh-grade History trip many years ago had moments and dates and names all through the Psalms that I had claimed, that I was praying over someone, or that declared His answer to me, from His holy hill.  So many of these Psalms are tied to a moment or a person.  Or a summer.

I know where I was the summer of ’72: El Instituto Lingüístico de Verano en Tlalpan, México, D.F. My dad was doing an external audit of the books for them, and my mom, the ever good sport was in charge of entertaining twenty-some-odd teenagers.  So we painted some kind of hippie murals on the rec room wall... a big hand with a single finger pointing up One Way and an unrolling parchment with the words, “His banner over me is love,” above the ping pong table.  And my mom sewed big pillows in hippie colors and old blue jeans and lightly tossed them around so we could be cool while we worked out all the Fisher and Spasskey chess games and pretended to argue over and discuss the wisdom of their choices.  And we had to play Rook because it was unChristian to play with real cards because back then they were known to be the gateway drug to all sorts of trouble.  And I read the Agatha Christie books over and over again because that is all that was in the library besides Bible Commentaries.  I did that is, until I started having nightmares full of slashing knives and crashing flower pots mysteriously tossed off balconies. There was Edgar, a young man that I managed to give my address even though I didn’t speak Spanish and he didn’t speak English when we were at the 1968 Olympics swimming pool and he brought me four dozens roses every single afternoon for two weeks until I begged the staff cook to tell him to never come back.  And my mom who of course knew absolutely nothing about soccer started a soccer league and was the center ref and ran back and forth, back and forth on that field every afternoon blowing her whistle, until the afternoon monsoons rolled in, that is.  And then we would gather in the rec room, and a couple of kids would pluck away tunelessly on their guitars and toss their stringy hair back and we would sing those songs, those choruses that were very edgy in a world of hymnbooks.  His banner over me is Love.  With hand motions.  

These edgy new songs which have put the ache of the human heart into words backwards and forwards into time to the very fulcrum of history, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" that is, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?"  

My Glory and the Lifter of my head.  

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Leaves withered around the edges

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.  Psalm 1:1-2

Alan and I have this little thing for print journalism.  We are all for it, and in our small sentimental way we continue to support its last desperate gasps for survival.  Like the day after I mailed in our renewal to Newsweek they announced their demise.  Every morning there is a crunch in the driveway gravel  of the local newspaper toss.  My tree hugger soul gave in to this higher calling.  And by the time these publications are finished begging for subscriptions they work out to be cheaper than toilet paper.  And great fireplace fodder. So the bongo drums around the living room are stacked with Time and The Week and Christianity Today and Newsweek (at least until January) and The Daily Star, with NPR radio sifting down in edgewise and The New York Times popping into my gmail account every night at midnight. Words, all I hear are words.  

And what a heavy weight it is.  My very tender PG-rated soul only will watch movies with a happy ending, and there is no end in sight. Erupting riots. Afghan massacre. Filthy water. Wicked and Sinners and Scoffers galore. And those who know me can see this weight has wrapped around my ankles like heavy chains and there is no happy bounce to my step.  

So here is this promise: Blessed, (or happy) is he whose delight is in the law of the LORD and on his law meditates day and night.  And our Monday night book club is reading Thomas Merton’s “Ways of Meditation,” which is not a method or system, but a cultivated outlook of faith, openness, attention, reverence, expectation, supplication, trust and joy.  Much sweeter that the latest roiling of the Petraeus scandal, although it is relatively nice to read that France became the first Western country to recognize the coalition, seeking to inject momentum into a broad effort to build a viable and effective opposition that would hasten the end of a stalemated civil war, one does notice the term of a “stalemated civil war,” and all of the bleakness thus entailed.  

Surely everyone stands as a mere breath.  
Surely everyone goes about like a shadow.  
Surely for nothing they are in turmoil; 
they heap up, and do not know who will gather.  
And now, O Lord, what do I wait for?  
My hope is in You.  

Merton underscores that under the pretext of what is “within” one should not cultivate neglect and contempt for the “external,” ...that meditation has no point unless it is firmly rooted in life.  Firmly rooted.  In Life.  Like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.  

And tying everything up with final flourish, today’s popped up with an reminder nuance to this happy:May our sons be like plants well nurtured from their youth, and our daughters like sculptured corners of a palace. Happy are the people of whom this is so! Happy are the people whose God is the LORD!

And may this joyful refrain file away the heavy chains of the shadowed reality on the cave wall, and replace it with a lilting Cameron Hood tune, pounded out with a stomping foot,
May our sons in youth, be firm in their roots
May our daughters be pillars at the palace of truth,
May our houses be homes.  May our wells overflow
May our sheep increase ten-thousand fold

May we slay deceit, rise from defeat
May You keep us from captivity
May our walls be strong, if we sing your songs
If we sing your praises all day long

Happy were we when blessings came
Happy are we who call on Your name
Happy are those whose God is true
Happy are those whose God is You.

the ravenous wolves cannot be sated

For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. 1 John 5:3-4

His commandments are not one more thing that I somehow have to juggle or add to the pot or lug around with me through yet another hurried day.  I don’t make a decision, and then think, “Oh yeah, how do I make this God-honoring?”  Life is far too complicated for that.  

Rather His commandments are a heart set before the day begins.  And from that heart flows peace and order, and the disparate segments snap into place or get brushed off the tablecloth into the garbage.  It is so much simpler to obey one Master, rather than ripping off chunks of self and tossing the bits and pieces to clamoring conflicting interests to squelch the shouting. Momentarily.   

Imagine no conflicting interest.  

Once again, Henri Nouwen reminds me that the root of “obedience” is the Latin word audire, which means “to listen,” in contrast to the word “deaf,” or surdus, from where we get the word “absurd.”  Mr. O’Reilly’s adage (yes, we taught that word to Wali last night, as we piled onto the couch in front of the now-winter fireplace) KISS*.  Every time.  

Love the LORD your God with all of your heart and soul and mind.  And love your neighbor... ah yes, the new commandment, the bar has been kicked up: not as yourself, but as He has loved you.  

For I have overcome the world.  

* Keep It Simple, Stupid

Monday, November 12, 2012

Hey, brother, let me pull that splinter out of your eye

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 1 John 3:20

I think that’s why this election process was so very gut-wrenching. Millions, nay, even billions of dollars were spent trying to create hatred against our neighbor, our brother.  This undisclosed and seemingly unending and certainly unmonitored flow of cash was craftily honed and scientifically manipulated to paint one another with the blackest of brushes.  Tempting us to judge on the most superficial outward appearances, the sketchiest of demographics, the most twisted of stories taken out of context, and to cling to these fiery dart soundbites as truth that could somehow set us free.  

And these unnamed PACs, wolf packs really, were not only free to wreck this destruction for their own purposes, but to do so free from the saving grace of the Spirit at work within. The Son was not sent as the propitiation for their sins, and there is no hope of His redeeming grace to be manifest because they have no soul.  

And yet we invited this spirit of the antichrist into our airwaves and into our mailboxes and scattered across every street corner with their lies.  And pretended it was for the greater good but the line is clear: anyone who does not love, does not know God.  

Yesterday was Community Sunday at the Vineyard, which is really the best of the best, the Joshua Stone pilgrimage to the mic to articulate the revealed love of God, even in the valley of the shadow of death.  A lot of the stories described this love being revealed in the phone calls, and the pressed-into-the-hand twenty dollar bills, and raked yards and that sort of thing being perfected in the body, because although no one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us.

There was one particular tender story told.  A brother found himself unloving.  Actually he used the word “hating.” Those slouchy teenagers tagging his walls, grinding their cigarette butts on his gravel, and dropping their sticky trash on his sidewalk.  And one day, as he glared out the window and spun webs constructed of barbed wire, the Spirit pierced his soul.  And rather than draw lines of Them and Us, he entered the world of Them.  Every day.  He sorta hung around, and maybe cracked a not-so-good joke or two, and offered a lift when a ride fell through, and learned names.  And by naming Them, we truly see Them and we become like Jesus, because He knows the number of hairs on each head.  

And likewise each one of us need to fall on our knees in repentance, and ask the Spirit to likewise cleanse this country, and more particularly His Church, and even more particularly my heart from this filth which now shadows each conversation and headline glance.  And may the fog clear, and may we understand that our salvation does not come from horses and chariots and swords, but from the lifted up arms of a Savior who so loved the world, each and every named one.  And this commandment we have from Him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

First splashes of winter rain bring spring wildflowers

And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing to his sight. And this is his commandment.  That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another as he gave us commandment.  I John 3:22, 23

All the bibles are the same in this Victorian-frilled cottage where I am staying.  Translated out of the original tongues and with the former translations diligently compared and revised set fourth in 1611 and commonly known as the King James Version.  But it is quite clear.  And it is clear on the dozens and dozens of knickknacks which tumble off of every cut lace  and doily-covered table and bureau and cupboard and crowd together on every wall and, well there are no empty spaces.  Love Never Faileth: For God so love the World that He gave His Only Begotten Son that Whoever Believeth in him should not Perish, but have Everlasting Life.  

And the wind is whipping fiercely through the crackling Prescott pine trees, but I am secure in this home opened up in love, His love.  And one of the things I did last night was read an old copy of Newsweek, after I went over to the very nice public library across the street, which I am quite sure is my favorite thing about America and blessings on Benjamin Franklin’s head, and checked my emails and talked to a lonely old man about how do you start using computers because he bought one because everyone has one but now he doesn’t know what to do with it.  And if he opens it up, where would he type google?  Anyways, he does know about the World Championship of Texas Hold ‘Em High held in Vegas, and he knows every little card flip and every little year who won what and when the rules changed in 2006, and now I know a lot about it too, I would really like it, he can tell by the look in my eye.  

The cover article is “Heaven is Real: A doctor’s experience of the afterlife,” written by an academic neurosurgeon at Harvard who fell into a meningitis-induced coma and experienced the truly unexpected, a journey to the afterlife.  And he freely admits that there is not scientific explanation for the fact that while his body lay in coma, his mind– his conscious, inner self was alive and well and traveled to a dimension which the old, pre-coma him would have been more than happy to explain was a simple impossibility.  And he has spent months trying to sort through the experience and wrap words around it, but the overall understanding that he now knows is that he is loved and cherished, dearly, forever.  

And every time he began to wordlessly frame questions like Where is this place? Who am I? Why am I here? the answer came instantly in an explosion of light, color, love and beauty that blew through him like a crashing wave.

Which is what God is saying here, and says to us every day: I so love you that I sent my Son, offering my self up in love.  Believe and do likewise.  That’s it.  And I can get a glimmer that if He did not withhold even His son, there is nothing that He will withhold.    Whatever I ask, I receive.  I am secure and at rest.  Just like in this rattling, humming, clunking but warm old house.  

So now there’s this big shot doctor whose nice prestigious and comfortable life has been dumped upside down, because everything he knew to be true now lies broken at his feet, destroyed, and that is OK because now he understands. And he intends on spending the rest of his life getting people to grasp the enormity of what he has seen and experienced.  Sort like John and his Revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave unto him.  And now, when Dr. Eben Alexander looks at the painting that I too am looking at straight in front of me, of Jesus breaking bread with the disciples, it evokes the message that lays at the very heart of his journey: that we are loved and accepted unconditionally by a God even more grand and unfathomably glorious that the one we both learned about in Sunday School.  

Paul heard the same voice that also crashed and burned his big shot plans, dumping them upside down broken at his feet, and set him on a new road. For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye, being rooted and ground in love, May be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that you might be filled with all the fulness of God.  

Dear LORD, this is my prayer, even if it means taking my life and dumping it upside down broken at my feet. Because it’s not just about His love for me.  Because there were much more important things to talk about with the lonely old man with only two bottom teeth at the public library than google.  Let me be faithful as well, to speak boldly of what I comprehend.  

Together with all the saints.