Tuesday, October 25, 2022
On the advice of a friend, I took some extra time this morning for a bit of self-care. My friend noticed that I seemed a bit tired and suggested the following action to restore my soul:
First, leave your cell phone on your desk (check. . . that was easy).
Second, go around the church to the large side yard opposite the cemetery (not far away and easy to get to).
Third, find a spot and sit down. I found the stone benches and table under the cover of a large tree. Sighing I sat down and instantly felt the cold of the stone on my legs.
Finally, listen and observe.
The air was cool. Closing my eyes, I felt the warmth of the sun on my eyelids and I smiled. Slowly and deliberately I breathed in and out. No thoughts filled my mind, just the gentle ring and falling of my chest; the dryness of the breath coming in cool and out warmer.
After a few minutes (I think) I began to hear something--popping. It was all around me. I didn't know if I was hearing a bird or squirrel gathering nuts for the winter. But in my heart I knew that my question didn't matter. The gentle popping was coming from around me. Opening my eyes I scanned the trees slowly to see if I could spot a furry-friend who was at work in the trees--nothing.
The popping continued.
I looked slowly around to see if the leaves were blowing in a breeze that I couldn't feel on the ground but was present high up in the treetops and therefore knocking something out of the trees--nothing.
Realizing that something was happening, I closed my eyes and returned to my peaceful state. Breathe in. . . breathe out. . . The popping continued for some time until I reached back for my journal and wanted to document what I was experiencing. And as soon as I did: the popping stopped.
After writing three sentences, I looked around at the now silent yard before me. Something was different. I sat perfectly still for a long moment. Where was the popping? What had I done? Closing my book and returning it to its place behind me on the table, I closed my eyes and listened. In and out I breathed. . . The popping came back, but this time with company.
I heard crickets out in the distance and birds chirping around me. The natural symphony began again but this time richer than before.
When it was time to return home for lunch, I rubbed my knees and stood. Walking away I wondered: how many times do we interrupt a blessing for practicality? What lesson can you learn from my story in the side yard of the church?
Wednesday, October 19, 2022
This morning I walked into the sanctuary, switched on the lights, and sat down. It was 9:30. In five minutes I would be joined by six children from our 4-year-old program and about a dozen 3-year-olds. The would sit in the second pew of the sanctuary and together we would have chapel of the next 15 minutes.
Chapel is hard for me because I only have a few minutes and I want to faithfully present the gospel to these kids and help them continue to grow in their faith. Yet it is also a joy. The children are lively and energetic. They point at the pictures that I show them and want to 'touch' Jesus on my iPad at every moment. The energy is infectious and I leave chapel feeling my heart warmed and blessed as they wave and say 'thank you.'
Today was another chance to teach them.
Scrolling through my notebook on my desk I found the next set of stories that I wanted to share with them. Mentally thinking each story through, I settled on the story of the woman caught in adultery. Jesus tells the crowd, "let he who is without sin cast the first stone." Great lesson1
I would leave out the adultery part and state that she did a very bad thing. Emphasis would be added and we would speak about forgiveness and how God forgives us when people around us don't want to. It was a simple lesson and straightforward. . . until it wasn't.
As I got to the part where I would make the subtle change, the children began to recoil in anxiety. (She did a bad thing remember). The would tuck their noses into their coats or sweaters. They sat back in the pew to be away from me and furrowed their brows as I read and talked to them. I could see it in their eyes that they were getting worried.
"What would happen to the woman," their eyes begged me--again she did a bad thing!
As we finished the story, the tension was broken. God forgives us. God welcomes us. Jesus loves us. But for those few moment when the whole picture was in doubt, that conclusion was also suspect.
Now as I sit here and think about the children I wonder about the seriousness of God's word and the redemptive nature of the gospel. We know the good news and can speak about it to others. But do still feel the tension that lives in the original narrative?
I wonder if you stop and linger over God's words when you have a devotional time with Jesus? Do you pause and let the gravity of what is happening in the text truly shape your heart? Or do you just rush on by that tension because you are busy and need to get moving?
The children taught me a lesson today about lingering with God. I wonder what their experience said to you?
Tuesday, October 18, 2022
I started writing this blog as covid-19 gripped our world. As I watched and listened to leaders and news outlets comment on the pandemic-that-was-to-come I felt something in my heart twinge. . . It sounded like everyone was enjoying the suffering and casting out of despair and pain. Don't we know the phrase, 'everyone loves a tragedy.'
At that time, it sounded like only bad news was being sown. I heard more and more leaders in the church speak hopelessly and faithlessly and I worried. . . and I wondered. How can I help, Father?
So I started writing.
As a pastor wiring is what I do often. I sit and I write. I jot down thoughts in notebooks and post on social media. I write in the margins of books that empower my soul and capture my imagination. So in the beginning steps of the pandemic, when I worried the most and was anxious, I wrote.
I thought, "If I could just offer a tiny word of hope to the church that God has called me to serve then maybe I can help; maybe we will be okay." Was this naive, maybe, but it was what I felt called to do.
I offered words of spirituality and contemplation. I reminded myself that, as my doctoral teacher would say, 'the most powerful word in the Bible is "with." ' This act of writing became my practice; my source of contemplation and reflection. It helped my spirit grow and breath again.
Yet as you realize by reading this, I haven't written in quite some time--and there are many reasons for that. Death has come into our family again. The slow and painful process of saying 'good-bye' has been with Jennifer and I and her family.
I stopped writing because my children needed help in their own ways. So I listened and I tried to 'be with' them.
I stopped writing because I was too busy.
Now it has been almost three weeks since I wrote. Three weeks since I put my faith into practice and thought about how God is 'with' us. And you know, that break has not been healthy for my spirit.
While not practicing the one little thing that God asked me to do, I stopped practicing my faith in my own way and my spirit became dry. I got tired. I became complacent and my attention was drawn away from my faith practices and toward practicality. Now practicality is necessary at times, but I wonder if I, if we, sacrifice faith for practicality? I wonder if as we stop doing what God asks us to do, I wonder how we might dry out as Christians?
And so, today, I write. . . I wonder what God is asking you to begin again?
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