“Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.” Psalm 25: 4-5
The following is an excerpt of a letter I received from one of my sons for Mother’s Day.
. . . Maybe I’ve said some of this stuff before, and if I have let’s just chalk it up to that fact it bears repeating.
First, thank you for being my mom. Its cliche to say you’re the best mom in the world, and you’d argue you aren’t, but I am tremendously grateful for you, and I can’t imagine having any mother but you. A recurring theme in your letters to us boys seems to be apologies for not doing things better/differently, and who knows how things would have turned out if you had. I do know that I wouldn’t be the man I am today if it weren’t for you. I wouldn’t be the father I am today without my memories of how you parented us. I wouldn’t be the husband I am today without the guidance you’ve given me.
You say “you don’t mean that, but that’s ok” when I say “I miss you too,” and to an extent you are right. I return the sentiment partly because I’m never sure how to respond. I don’t miss you often. Not the same way I miss Honey, or Gran and PaPa, or old friends from school, or old pets. That’s because, as cliche as it sounds, I rarely feel like you aren’t with me.
Beyond being able to pick up the phone and call, text, video chat, email, or contact you in numerous possible ways, you are with me when I go about my day to day life. You are with me when I watch the kids playing and just enjoy their presence. You are with me when they ask why I’m staring at them and I say I’m just enjoying watching them and smile the smile I’ve seen you give so many times; the smile that is mixed with the sadness of knowing the moment won’t last forever. You are with me when I’m consoling hurt feelings or breaking up fights or trying to give advice because everything I say and do is informed by times you did those things for me. You are with me even during little things like: -vacuuming when I like to get the carpet in a specific pattern like you did,
-cleaning bathrooms when I clean spots (not easily cleaned) because that’s how you taught me,
-when I’m driving with the windows down and the AC on because I remember you having the revelation you don’t have to roll the windows up just because H&G did it that way
-when I’m making the bed and I could make a hospital corner fold. I don’t because I followed your example and realized I don’t have to do it that way just because you did, but I could if I wanted to because you taught me how.
So, thank you for being my mom. Thank you for shaping who I am and instilling me with so many values, skills, and memories. Thank you for allowing me not to miss you as much as you miss me specifically because of those values, skills, and memories. Thank you.
I have read it over and over again, crying each time—happy tears, healing tears, grateful tears.
Have you ever said or thought that you just do not feel like God is with you, that She is far away? Have you ever asked for “God with skin on?” Or what about the question “Where are you God?” when going through difficult trials.
How can I be as aware of God’s presence with me as my son is about my presence with him?
Isn’t this what the apostle Thomas was expressing in the Upper Room? After Christ appeared to the disciples in Thomas’s absence, he says “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” (John 20: 24-29)
Was Thomas really expressing doubt or was he just wanting what all of us want, the comfort of a deep consciousness of His presence, that we are not alone, that God is with us?
A week later, Jesus reappears to the disciples gathered once again in the Upper Room this time with Thomas present. Remarkably, Jesus does not chastise Thomas. Instead He says: “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
The last part of verse 27 in the Complete Jewish Bible reads: “Don’t be lacking in trust, but have trust!”
Thomas was not wavering, hesitating or having misgivings. He had just been through a harrowing and traumatic experience. He was given and accepted the opportunity to deepen his trust.
The decision to trust God is not just a once in a lifetime experience. Trusting God is a daily devotion. Given our current worldly circumstances, trusting God may need to be a moment to moment remembering.
Jesus responded to Thomas by saying: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe (trust).” I know many people use this verse to develop a theology about faith. Perhaps there is another angle upon which to meditate . . .
. . . what if Jesus is saying “There may be times when you will feel like I am not around, but trust me anyway.”
This morning while appreciating the perfection of Her creation, I became saddened over humanity’s mismanagement and destruction of our glorious home. Just as tears were beginning to roll down my cheeks, five Finches swooped and flew in a formation better than anything I have ever seen performed by the Blue Angels. They soared in concert, shifting flight positions with ease and grace. Their aerial tactics lasted little more than a minute, but left me astonishingly awed.
What a beautiful, God-given opportunity for me to place my hands in Her side and see and feel Her nail-scarred hands and feet . . . “Trust me.”
If we are alert and watchful, these experiences—“values, skills and memories”–to deepen our trust are all around us, and we can begin to be as awakened to God’s presence with us as my son is of mine with him.
Psalm 139 verses seven through twelve says:
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
Or perhaps a poem by Hafiz is more to your liking:
God courts us with the beauty
of this world.
The Beloved courts us with music,
and any touch that quiets,
or can excite a heart
to such an extent
it will look like a radiant applause.
. . . thank you, son . . .
In regard to the Coronavirus Task Force, the word you were looking for during your press conference was ‘necessary.’ You “had no idea the Task Force was so necessary,” not ‘popular.’
Now before you begin a tyrannical twitter, let me say I have the highest respect for the Office of President and a deep regard for the person elected therein.
Be that as it may, I do not like you. However, when I go for a walk every day, I pray for you.
I began this ritual when you adamantly decided not to enact the Defense Production Act. To be honest, I was quite angry at your nonchalant arrogance.
Needing to do something with my pent-up frustration, I went for a walk and prayed in my Spirit language for you—English words just would not suffice. Later that evening, I heard that you had changed your mind and were moving forward with its authorization.
After that and since, as much as I do not want to pray for you, that is exactly how much God does want me to. Let me be clear, you are the last person I want to think about and pray for as I enjoy a refreshing walk–but that is not how God rolls.
First Timothy 2:1-2 says: I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.
Today, much to the dismay of my ego, I actually enjoyed my prayer time for you as I took a long stroll.
Therein lies the paradox . . . God holds the most seeming contradictions together–all in His gracious and infinite Love.
Fred R. Barnard is credited with the adage “A picture is worth a thousand words.”
Every historical era seems to have a myriad of iconic images that stir up emotions and feelings regarding particular events both great and small.
One such image that comes to mind is that of the sailor kissing a woman dressed in a nurse’s uniform in Times Square after the end of World War II. Or how about The Napalm Girl, as she is known, crying while running naked–fleeing for safety during the Vietnam War. Then there is the photograph called Flower Power which depicts a young woman “placing a carnation in the barrel of a rifle during a protest of the Vietnam War.”
I could go on and on.
Two such seminal images recently provoked the above letter to the President.
First was that of the male Michiganer—mouth agape with raging anger–literally roaring for his rights in the state capital while the male police officer stands at attention with what appears to be a calm demeanor in the face of the protestor not a foot away. The officer is wearing a face mask while the protestor is not.
What the heck was going on inside their heads, I wonder?
Some call the protestor a patriot; I call him a bully!
The second was that of President Trump seated at the feet of Abraham Lincoln in the memorial during a Town Hall interview. One of the most, if not the most (in my opinion), dishonest Presidents seated directly before Honest Abe?
Really? Holy mackerel!
In response to a friend’s frustration over the government shutdown last year, I wrote a meditation entitled “Radical Love.” In it I expressed the following: “Jesus was not calling into question the governmental system. Jesus was calling into question the religious system with radical love.”
While I still believe that to be a valid point, I now see a more nuanced revelation due to the contrasting perspectives in the aforementioned photos—that of the relational interplay of contradictory viewpoints. Or as Wikipedia defines it:
“In Ancient Chinese philosophy, yin and yang is a concept of dualism, describing how seemingly opposite or contrary forces may actually be complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world, and how they may give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another.”
I would add spiritual world as well, for ALL is Spirit—the holy choreography of the triune God.
The writer of the book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament–chapter three verses one through eight–renders it this way:
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
He continues in verse eleven of the same chapter by saying: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” We have “eternity” in our heart and yet we live one day at a time—the juxtaposition of the Eternal Now.
As I continue to follow God’s lead in prayer for President Trump, I feel oddly calm in the presence of God’s grace and goodness.
An Easter like no other . . .
Normally I would have dressed in my Sunday best and attended church with family, friends and loved ones. After greeting each other with, “The Lord is risen” and the corresponding “The Lord is risen indeed,” we would have hugged, kissed, and shook hands. During the service we would have sang those glorious hymns—Up From the Grave He Arose and Christ the Lord is Risen Today–that have come to mean so much to me over the years.
The flower-covered cross and altar with an inspirational message would have brought tears to my eyes.
All of which did happen later, albeit virtually on-line.
. . . dressed in my PJ’s, care-worn robe, slippers, winter coat and toboggan—I slipped out of my house at 6:15am leaving the warmth to stand in my yard and watch the sun rise.
The magnitude of the birds singing seemed to be pulling the sun more quickly over the horizon. To the south in the distance a rooster crowed three times and I thought of Peter, who had denied knowing Jesus . . . just a few nights ago.
As Peter ran to the grave that first Easter morning, did he hear a rooster squawk? Would this have caused him to stumble and fall or even consider turning back? Would I have done anything differently than Peter? I wonder . . .
The remote cock-a-doodle-do was joined by the rhythmic tapping of a woodpecker to the north and the mystical hooting of an owl in the east.
The surround-sound celebratory concert crescendoed as the heavens burst forth in a cacophony of slow-motion color. Sunbeams refracted through the atmosphere as I imagined the joy of the Grand Artist painting His masterpiece before my very eyes.
While the azure firmament brightened, the Warblers’ hymn quieted and then became still.
Even though no words were spoken, I felt I had heard the greatest sermon of my life; that I had danced with the Loving Trinity. I lingered expectantly, then ever so slowly I turned and went back inside . . . sated . . . atoned . . . Loved.
Beloved friends, let us love one another; because love is from God; and everyone who loves has God as his Father and knows God. Those who do not love, do not know God; because God is love. 1 John 4:7-8
Whether you believe it, know it, experience it, trust it, accept it . . . or not . . . you are thoroughly, profoundly, and intensely Loved and engaged in “The Divine Dance.”
As I write these last words, three beautiful Cardinals–two females and one male–are watching me from their perches in the tree just outside my window. Coincidence? No, confirmation.
“Truly, truly” . . . embrace The Eternal Truth . . . Wake UP . . . Christ is calling you!
(The Divine Dance is the title of a book I am currently reading by Richard Rohr)
Stop what you are doing . . .
. . . take a deep breath . . .
. . . hold it . . .
. . . and let it out . . .
. . . do it again, but this time from your gut—inhale through your stomach and upwards into your lungs watching the expansion of both . . . hold it . . . and slowly release . . .
. . . and one more time . . .
“From here on, worshiping the Father will not be a matter of the right place but with the right heart. For God is a Spirit, and longs to have sincere worshipers who worship and adore him in the realm of the Spirit and in truth.” John 4:23-24
The foot note in The Passion Translation says this:
“Or ‘God is breath,’ or ‘God is wind.’ Jesus refers to ‘Spirit’ more than one hundred times in the four Gospels.”
Have you ever really listened to the sound leaves make as they are rustled by the wind? Yesterday was a breezy day and as I was walking, I stopped and listened to the hypnotic swaying of a tremendously tall fir tree. In awe, I worshiped with her.
After that experience and reading the above scripture this morning, my thoughts became enchanted with the many activities where breathe or breathing is so significant.
I know, I know . . . breathing is important to everything . . . it is life or death; and yet there are certain tasks, pursuits, or pastimes that require deliberate breathing skills like opera singers. One does not need to like operatic music to appreciate the control of one’s breath these musicians wield with seeming ease.
Or how about athletes? In particular I was thinking about soccer players, swimmers and runners—sprinters and marathoners. To be honest I am sitting here shaking my head in amazement at how easy they make it look especially when simple tasks around the house can sometimes get me winded.
Phrases like “out of breath” or “I need to catch my breath” or “you take my breath away” express this apparent control or lack thereof over one’s breathing.
Breathing . . . something so salient to life and yet so often taken for granted.
Due to the pandemic, one of the common themes of social media is that we are all in this together. Social distancing, shelter in place, stay at home . . . God seems to be using this global epidemic to remind us, as Jesus did with his disciples in the verse above, that what is true and right is the condition and connection of our Hearts.
One way to remember this appears to be through the profound simplicity of breathing meditatively.
Hafiz says it this way:
“I am a hole in a flute that the Christ’s breath moves through, listen to the music.”
Uncertainty . . .
My oldest son called me last night and we engaged in conversation about the Coronavirus. I expressed my concerns for his and his family’s health—they live in California, south of San Francisco—and he assured me they were washing their hands, etc., taking the necessary precautions.
We discussed all the measures being implemented nationwide to slow the spread of the virus and he asked this question, “then what?” What comes next? “No one is talking about that,” he said. He mentioned how the Doomsday Clock had been moved forward a minute (100 seconds to midnight, in actuality) due to the Coronavirus pandemic. We then began a discourse on living with uncertainty.
Being unfamiliar with the Doomsday Clock, I did a little research.
“Founded in 1945 by University of Chicago scientists who had helped develop the first atomic weapons in the Manhattan Project, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists created the Doomsday Clock two years later, using the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero) to convey threats to humanity and the planet. The decision to move (or to leave in place) the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock is made every year by the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, which includes 13 Nobel laureates. The Clock has become a universally recognized indicator of the world’s vulnerability to catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change, and disruptive technologies in other domains.”
I do not know the cosmological, philosophical or theological beliefs of those reading this post. I do know that each day ends, each life ends, each season ends, and so on and yet there seems for each ending, a new beginning. So, we have Hope!
However, I will confess, I have a difficult time living this truth from moment to moment. In recent days, since this pandemic was declared, I have felt frightened. The scary realities of the times in which we are currently living make me feel like I am riding a rickety raft on hurricane-driven ocean waves.
Remaining calm in a crisis seems to be a gift for some people, not me! I merely hide my turmoil well.
For the season of Lent, I have been reading a devotional published by the Berkeley County Cluster United Methodist Churches. In it several pastors centered their meditations around Psalm 121, which was one of my mother’s favorite Psalms. The following is The Passion Translation.
I look up to the mountains and hills, longing for God’s help. But then I realize that our true help and protection come only from the Lord, our Creator who made the heavens and the earth.
He will guard and guide me, never letting me stumble or fall.
God is my keeper; he will never forget nor ignore me.
He will never slumber nor sleep; he is the Guardian-God for his people, Israel.
Jehovah himself will watch over you; he’s always at your side to shelter you safely in his presence.
He’s protecting you from all danger both day and night.
He will keep you from every form of evil or calamity as he continually watches over you.
You will be guarded by God himself. You will be safe when you leave your home and safely you will return. He will protect you now, and he’ll protect you forevermore!
While I was reading it, I found myself asking, “yes, but what about all the bad stuff that happens, all the suffering, man’s inhumanity to man . . .”
As I read it over and over again, I realized the point of this beautiful Psalm is not that God is some distant, far-off deity sitting on a throne watching his subjects stumble and fall. Rather, She is right here, ever present, amidst the muck and mire, tenderly and lovingly holding us—experiencing our pain, worry, fear and uncertainty with us.
When I meditate on this realization, I can breathe deeply and feel profoundly grateful.
May it be so for you as well.