Thursday, August 31, 2017

Look up at the sky and count the stars--if indeed you can count them.

He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds.
He determines the number of the stars;
He gives to all of them their names.
Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
His understanding is beyond measure. Psalm 147:3-5

Slowly I have learned that it is actually “holding” things in their seemingly unreconciled state that widens and deepens the soul. We must allow things to be only partly resolved, without perfect closure or explanation. Christians have not been taught how to live in hope. The ego always wants to settle the dust quickly and have answers right now. But Paul rightly says, “In hope we are saved, yet hope is not hope if its object is seen” (Romans 8:24). The virtue of hope widens and deepens our foundation.
Forgiveness becomes central to Jesus’ teaching, because to receive reality is always to “bear it,” to bear with reality for not meeting all of our needs. To accept reality is to forgive reality for being what it is, almost day by day and sometimes even hour by hour. Such a practice creates patient and humble people.
Forgiveness reveals three goodnesses simultaneously. When we forgive, we choose the goodness of the other over their faults, we experience God’s goodness flowing through ourselves, and we also experience our own capacity for goodness in a way that almost surprises us. We are finally in touch with a much Higher Power, and we slowly learn how to draw upon this Infinite Source. –Richard Rohr
So as I was making yet another pot of espresso to fill the endless stream of dark shots that ripple through our day, I somehow got entangled with a boiling over pot and a too-thin and damp potholder and burned myself royal.

So I get to observe the healing up process up close and reality all day, every day: the bubbling blisters, the ooze, the myriad kindly suggestions, the reopening of rawness again and again every time I wash a few dishes or swing a cute grandchild up to my shoulders, crusty scabs, the squeezed tight pain in so many unintentional handshakes, slight inflammation that affects surrounding healthy tissue and of course, a lovely scar that will be a reminder the rest of my life.

The world is a wounded place.

Each one of us.

And we try to deal with the wounds with all sorts of stuff, all sorts of man-made ointments, cover up bandages, and plans about what to and not to do.

But cha know? As I watch this wound on my hand do its thing, I am so totally aware that it is He who is doing it. Hands are amazing. I remember once, bouncing along in the back of a pick up truck on a dirty dusty road in Mexico, holding up my hand to someone who asked me why I believed in a God. I held up my hand, and said something along the lines of… every single day, my hand is right here in front of me so crazy powerful and inexplicable and amazing that it is harder for me to believe in random chance than a blazingly almighty Creator.

He who determines the number of the stars and gives them names, each of them, is the Healer, the only Way.

And He knows each of our names as well.

And it is a messy process. As much as I would like a presto cure, it is not going to happen.

And it doesn’t diminish His power and glory. The Healing is still awe-inspiring. Just not on Me, Myself and I’s neat and tidy schedule.

His understanding is beyond measure.

And if we are really in a place of repentance, broken and open before Him, it is totally not about the wrongs done to us by the wounded other, but only about by His wounds we have been healed.

It is He, not we ourselves, lest anyone of us should boast.

Create in me a clean heart, O God. And renew, day by day and sometimes even hour by hour, a right spirit within me.

Monday, August 28, 2017

And he burned the plowing equipment and then set off.

August 27, 2017

Peace be within your walls, and quietness within your towers. Psalm 122: 7

But most of us return to the garden by a more arduous route. In his poem Four quarters, T.S. Elliot called it the path of “observance, discipline, thought, and action. The hint half guessed, the gift half understood.” This ordinary path back to Paradise is the blood, guts and ecstasy of the whole biblical text: usually three steps forward and two steps backward, just like our lives. –Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs

Sunday mornings are drop dead still in Italian vineyards.

Except for the distant church bells.

A call to worship.

Let us leave a little room for reflection in our lives.

Today is the day that the Church honors the life of Augustine, one who left the craziness and listened in the stillness: Let us leave a little room for reflection in our lives, room too for silence, Let us look within ourselves and see whether there is some delightful hidden place inside where we can be free of noise and argument. Let us hear the Word of God in stillness and perhaps we will then come to understand it.

August 29, 2017

Me: I can’t believe after all these years I haven’t learned to pour coffee without spilling it.
Dustin: Slowly and with the lid off.

Let the morning bring me word of Your unfailing love,
    for I have put my trust in You.
Show me the way I should go,
    for to You I entrust my life. Psalm 143:8

Come ye needy, come, and welcome
God’s free bounty glorify;
True belief and true repentance,
Every grace that brings you nigh.

Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
Bruised and broken by the fall;
If you tarry ‘til you’re better,
You will not come at all.
Not the righteous, not the righteous,
Sinners Jesus came to call.

It is harvest season in Lugo, Italy. And what is striking is not so much to big beautiful multicolored grape orbs hanging down from every vine, but rather the vast flat fields of wheat and corn chaff left behind. And two days ago-ish we watched great big trucks chop it all down, every bit of it, and shoot it into other great big trucks, chopped to smithereens. Dry and worthless; so much energy and water invested for naught, except for perhaps cow bedding or mulch for garden beds.

I was talking to a friend who was reflecting on back on life thus far, and all of the big messy projects and shouting crowds and long complicated to do lists and seeming victories that swirled up into so much smoke.  And yet, where was the fruit in all of this?

Elijah came to this moment: he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life.”

And the angel of the Lord met him in a dream, and led him for forty days into the wilderness, far, far away from it all, all of the stuff.  

What are you doing here, Elijah?
I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty.

And the LORD God Almighty said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.

And The LORD God met him there. And He didn’t speak to him in the great, powerful wind that tore mountains apart and shattered the rocks, nor was He in the earthquake, nor was he in the roaring fire. But the LORD God came to him in a gentle whisper.

What are you doing here, Elijah?
I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty.

Lots of people have been, and are and will be very zealous for the LORD God Almighty.

And at the end of the season, the time of harvest they will stand in front of Him and say, “Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?

And He will tell them plainly, I never knew you.

All of this zealous busyness, the stuff, the lists, the stacks of dishes, the metaphorical whirlwinds and earthquakes and fires, where was He?

And at the end of the season, the time of harvest, the fruit will be gathered into the barns, and the tares sown by the enemy will be gathered up and burned. And all will be made clear.

And in response to this quiet whisper, I will choose to say, just as Elijah did, before he returned the way he came,

 “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life.”

And so I set off for Assisi and a quiet long walk in Stillness.

Friday, August 25, 2017

The morning larks are already lifted high.

Make every effort to supplement your faith with excellence, and excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.  For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 2 Peter 1:5-10

First the fall, and then the recovery from the fall, and both are the mercy of God. —Julian of Norwich (c. 1343­­–c. 1416)

Lord our God, we thank You that You have given us an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We thank You that You have already begun to give us new vision, that already many things are being transformed, so that we may go gladly and confidently on our way with hope for whatever is still unsolved. May all this live in our hearts and fill us with thanks to You. We want to be courageous and keep in sight what still needs to be changed as we take our part as workers in Your vineyard. May the light You have given us continue to shine in us and burn ever more brightly, as You have promised. Amen.

I think that actually where we have landed outside of Lugo, Italy is an old warehouse for the vineyards that stretch out in tidy rows in every direction. There are several beautiful apartments now tucked inside its spacious rafters, but its simple rugged exterior proclaims its original purpose.

And one cannot help but thinking about workers and the harvest around here. Abundance hangs low on every branch. Yesterday even four-year-old Everette was able to pluck not only handfuls of every-colored grape and spit out the seeds with practiced confidence, she also ate two plums, three figs, a pear, an apple, two peaches, four tomatoes and homemade pesto.

And this big long list of virtues or excellence has nothing to do with earning our place in the already now eternal kingdom of God. Rather it is a long list of pruning and fertilizing and weeding in order to create the sturdy and full-of-fruit branches connected to the Vine.

Sometime way before dawn the engines started roaring outside. And I don't know whether they were mowers or hoers or shakers, but they were up and at ‘em early. And while this walk with Jesus is simple and straightforward on many levels, there are things that easily entangle us or long to jump up and pierce our thinking like the many stinging nettles that lurk in every pathway. And while there are the waxing eloquent metaphors describing how the branches’ job is simply to “be” while the vine does (or did, depending on the translation) all the heavy lifting, someone out there is rising up before the dark orange sun and kneeling into the backbreaking work.

This walk is not for the sloppy or weak of heart.

So we are saved by faith, that not of ourselves, lest any of us boast. And brokenness and death and falling to the ground dried up and spent are all part of the process.

But so are self-control and steadfastness as daily choices. As is love. Every hot sweating stinking day we have to choose to practice love, the acting out and doing of it. And sometimes love is great fun, like racing Everette down the white sandy beach as fast as you both can go, but mostly it’s a bit of a bear, and it’s loading six borrowed bikes or two borrowed beds into the back of your car or spending the afternoon visiting three shops to figure out which sim card to buy for the folks that just arrived from Spain, France and Germany.

Or noticing the blind beggar shaking his coin box. Or explaining yet again what it means to be greatest. Or preparing a fish breakfast by the side of a lake for a bunch of people who just abandoned you when things got rough. And they couldn’t even stay awake and pray for an hour.

 A lot of the new vision stuff is still walking silently along country roads, without even thoughts, and the transformation thing is so deep maybe that it is still seeds buried underground with just little green sprigs peeking out into the light, and bunches still feels unsolved.

Breathe in deeply.

Breath out.

Coming to an end of self. How does that happen?

But there is always what is right in front of me. Even if I am still working through what it means to love the Lord with all my heart, all my soul, all my mind and all my strength, there is always the neighbor right here.

One thing that I am being Spirit-prodded about is my edgy withdrawal from beggars on the street; even if I occasionally toss them a coin, I still look away. I am going to choose to pause, to kneel down, to look, and ask, “What do you need?”

How can I as a follower of Him not pause? He who paused for the unclean and marginalized again and again: the unclean bleeding woman, the woman caught in adultery, the tax collector, the demon-possessed naked man.

Come on. How did He answer the question “What must I do?” With a story about the religious people who looked away and the heathen who knelt down.

In excellence and knowledge and self-control and steadfastness and godliness and brotherly affection, and love. 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

And everywhere I go, people are singing “Depacito.”

The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures : and leads me beside still waters. He revives my soul : and guides me along right pathways for His name’s sake. Psalm 23: 1-3

Vi que tu mirada ya estaba llamándome. Muestrame el camino que yo voy. –Luis Fonsi

I took out this chunk of time from a fairly tightly orchestrated life with lots of checklists and schedules and emails to deal in order to practice the command to “Follow Me” with no hesitation and with lightness in my step.

And everywhere I go this summer, the song “Despacito,” is being sung in full blast chorus, from those sitting around darkened beer halls or accompanied by blaring car speakers, to a busload of Christian young people and to small children dancing under the sprinklers.

The lyrics are actually a bit detailed graphic for such broad enthusiasm, but so is The Song of Solomon.  And there is something gripping and palpitating and organic about His love for us, for me, His beloved.

Yesterday, after a long WhatsApp conversation with Nicole, I slid on my full knapsack, cinched the hip strap, and headed up the cobbled hills, just to put my old knees and ankles to the test. My itinerary seemed pretty simple: the castle on top of the great big hill, a bank to deposit my costs for Taíze into the church account, and a trip back and forth through Old Town and its swarms of tourists on my way to my next Secret Shopper hostel. Especially with a fully charged iPhone and gMaps with all of the proper pins, easy peasy.

But in Prague, nothing is simple, when guidebooks wax eloquent of fairy tale spires and ancient stone gates, what they really mean are mysteriously convoluted streets and twisting trails up and into dense forests. And sometimes GPS likes to take a little break and just pulse silently and sometimes it leads me right to a cliff hundreds of feet above the bridge I am to cross.

Which was perfectly delightfully fine. It was just me and no one else, tromping past the gilt art deco and through the aching crowds and past haunting doorways into the splattering raindrops.

Nope, correction. it was just me and Jesus. Sent out two by two in order to learn to hear His voice, “Follow Me.”

So I invented a little prayer today, crossing myself as a gentle reminder, as I walked by so many churches reaching up to heaven and so many iron cast outstretched arms reaching out for His beloved world and so many downward looking eyes seeking His lost sheep.

Merciful Lord God, please give me Your thoughts (God the Father, touch my forehead), please give me Your heart (God the Son, touch my chest), ​please give me Your strength and power (God the Spirit, touch each of my shoulders), in the name of Jesus, Amen. 

A simple reminder which I long to become the rhythm of my soul. As we journey on together, two by two, sent.

God, we know that You never fail us. Even in our suffering and loneliness, help us to hear the whisper of Your love. Be our refuge and shelter, and remind us over and over that we are Your beloved. Amen.