The Humble Flower

If a little flower could speak, it seems to me that it would tell us quite simply all that God has done for it, without hiding any of its gifts. It would not, under the pretext of humility, say that it was not pretty, or that it had not a sweet scent, that the sun had withered its petals, or the storm bruised its stem, if it knew that such were not the case.

-Therese of Lisieux

Humility is seeing ourselves as God sees us. No more. No less.

Dark

Even when I don’t see it, You’re working.

Even when I don’t feel it, You’re working.*

Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things. (Ephesian 4:9,10 NASB)

*From “Waymaker” by Osinachi Kalu Okoro

Creative Meditations for Lent, Prompt word: Dark

Truth

Truth, real truth, total truth is like a burning laser light. Most of us can’t handle the truth.

When the prophet Isaiah encountered God in a vision, he encountered Truth. He cried out, “Woe is me for I am a man with unclean lips.” The blindingly holy light of truth revealed that he (like most of us) had spoken things that were untrue. I wonder what would have happened if God had not ministered mercy by sending an angel to purify his lips with a hot coal. I’ve also noticed that sometimes truth leaves scars.

Here’s the thing. Truth without love is harsh. Very harsh.

Have you ever watched two people fall in love? When most couples go on a first date, both put great effort into creating a good impression. The truth is, they don’t always look this good, smell this good, or act so thoughtfully. They keep some important information to themselves and may add a sheen to unavoidable details if they want a second date. As time goes on, they begin to test the interest level by gradually revealing minor unappealing aspects about themselves to see if the other will stick around. Love grows in an atmosphere of safety and acceptance. More truth can be told. Sadly, some people keep up a false image until the effort half kills them and everything falls apart. The truth will eventually come out.

Many of us are still vainly attempting to impress God while concealing aspects of ourselves that trigger shame. Hiding stuff doesn’t work. He knows. That fact alone sends millions into metaphorical sewing of fig-leaf wear whilst hiding in the shrubbery like Adam and Eve.

For those who don’t read social cues well and are whole-truth-and-nothing-but-the-truth tellers, this whole dating thing is a mine field.

“You told her she needed a better deodorant?” I exclaimed with shock when my neuro-divergent friend told me about meeting a girl he liked. “I was only telling her the truth. I care about her. She should know.”

My explanation to him involved caring truth-telling about the way neuro-typicals perceive information. (At least I hope he perceived it as caring.) He was telling her the truth, but how was she to know he cared? How did he demonstrate that? Telling her she needed better deodorant could have felt a bit hurtful even if it was true. Most people can’t handle the truth, especially truth about themselves. Truth must be wrapped in communicated love, or it feels like a frying pan to the face and that’s the end of that.

Before Jesus was taken away to be killed, he told his friends, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.”  (John 16: 12,13)

The disciples were not ready to bear all the truth Jesus wanted to tell them. Jesus is The Truth, but he is also Love. Love doesn’t lie, and Godly truth gives us only as much truth as we can handle. He understands out frailty, but he also wants us to grow. Without a solid understanding of who God is, and that his lovingkindness and mercy endure forever, all of us, including the extremely narcissistic, tend to mix our truth medicine with a spoonful of denial, if not a cup of outright fantasy. Maturity is being able to appreciate the whole truth without being blown away by it. We need help getting to that point, but God provided for that too.

J.B. Phillips phrased it this way in his paraphrase of Ephesians 4:11-16

His “gifts to men” were varied. Some he made his messengers, some prophets, some preachers of the Gospel; to some he gave the power to guide and teach his people. His gifts were made that Christians might be properly equipped for their service, that the whole body might be built up until the time comes when, in the unity of the common faith and common knowledge of the Son of God, we arrive at real maturity—that measure of development which is meant by the “fullness of Christ”.

We are not meant to remain as children at the mercy of every chance wind of teaching and the jockeying of men who are expert in the craft presentation of lies. But we are meant to hold firmly to the truth in love, and to grow up in every way into Christ, the head. For it is from the head that the whole body, as a harmonious structure knit together by the joints with which it is provided, grows by the proper functioning of individual parts to its full maturity in love.

The Holy Spirit guides us into all truth, but patiently, not by dumping it all on our heads all at once. He is kind. Sometimes it’s a wonderful warm experience and sometimes it feels like receiving a father’s concerned discipline, but it always carries the scent of merciful lovingkindness.

Like many aspects of spiritual maturity, the ability to comprehend truth and see the way God sees is a process. I am learning that being Christ-centered and acknowledging Jesus in everything means becoming as intentional about a deepening relationship as he is.

It’s all about getting to know him.

Creative Meditations for Lent, Word Prompt: Truth

Aroma

Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. (Ephesians 5:2 NLT)

I love the scent of poplar trees when the sap begins to flow. It reminds me of paddling down a sun-dappled river with my friends when I was a teenager. I have to stop in a pine forest just to breathe the fragrance in the air. It carries memories of carefree Saturdays in the mountains with my family when I was a child.

My friend feels differently. The aroma of spring sends her to the pharmacy for tissues and antihistamines in preparation for allergy season. I understand. Personally, I hate the smell of motor oil. It reminds me of the disappointment of a broken car being worked on in the garage instead of taking us on another adventure. I’m obviously not a mechanic who enjoys hours tinkering under the hood.

Many passages of scripture tell us that certain aromas carry a sweet fragrant aroma of a sacrifice which is pleasing to God. I wonder if it the aroma metaphorically carries the attitude of worship to him, the way the aroma of freshly baked bread carried the message of motherlove to me.

Some passages of scriptures continue the metaphor of aroma and tell us some smells are good and some are bad. Evil rebellious people are like a bad stink to God:

All day long I opened my arms to a rebellious people. But they follow their own evil paths and their own crooked schemesThese people are a stench in my nostrils, an acrid smell that never goes away. (Isaiah 65:2 & 5)

A life filled with sacrificial love is pleasing aroma to God. False love (aka manipulation) smells, well, off. We say something smells fishy when we are around people whose services seem self-serving. Something is off. We detect a stink under the rose water. In contrast, the kind of love Christ demonstrated is a pleasing aroma. God discerns the attitude of the heart.

In dream symbolism the nose often represents discernment. It’s that sense that detects what usually cannot be seen. Some people have told me they can discern what spirit is operating behind the scenes in room by pleasant and unpleasant smells. Apparently demonic spirits can stink like latrines or decaying flesh.

I once detected the beautiful scent of orange blossoms while in worship with friends. No one was wearing that fragrance. It was wonderful! Have you ever sensed something like it? Let me know in the comments.

Creative Meditations for Lent, Prompt Word: Aroma

Flow

On the final and climactic day of the Feast, Jesus took his stand. He cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Rivers of living water will brim and spill out of the depths of anyone who believes in me this way, just as the Scripture says.” (He said this in regard to the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were about to receive. The Spirit had not yet been given because Jesus had not yet been glorified.) 

(John 7:38, 39 The Message)

Creative Meditations for Lent, Prompt word: Flow

Peace

“I leave behind with you—peace; I give you my own peace and my gift is nothing like the peace of this world.” – Jesus (in John 14:27, Phillips paraphrase)

Most people think of peace as the absence of hostilities or of war. Even when we talk about personal peace, we often mean the absence of things like annoying interruptions, chaos, lack of resources, or worries that something will interfere with our priorities. I wonder if the peace that Jesus offers is not like that. I wonder if his peace is not the absence of something but the presence of something.

What if peace is more like completeness? What if the peace he left us means having all the tools necessary for a task, or being so convinced that God will provide everything we need that we can not only survive storms, but walk into them with assurance that it’s going to be alright?

What if this perfect peace creates an appreciation of divine priorities. What if this peace that passes understanding comes with complete trust that God loves us and allows us to engage with him in his purposes? What if we become aware of perfect peace flowing through us and allow it to help us to perceive the direction of the wind of the Holy Spirit?

What if the peace that is nothing like the peace of the world means Christ has made more available to us than we ever imagined?

Red

Today’s prompt for Creative Meditations for Lent was the word “Red.” The final verse of my favourite hymn comes to mind when prompted by red. From “Oh Love That Will Not Let Me Go” by George Matheson:

O Cross that liftest up my head,

I dare not ask to fly from thee;

I lay in dust life’s glory dead,

And from the ground there blossoms red

Life that shall endless be.

Hope

“I pray that God, the source of all hope, will infuse your lives with an abundance of joy and peace in the midst of your faith so that your hope will overflow through the power of the Holy Spirit.”

(Romans 15:13 The Voice)

Photography has taught me to look for the beautiful in the midst of the ugly. Faith is teaching me to see joy and peace in the midst of a world full of anger and fear. It doesn’t deny the dead and decaying, but when it is focused on the lovely, and the good and the true that say, “Look! New Life!” faith creates a portrait of hope.

Refine

Jesus leads us into a place of radical grace where we are able to celebrate the hope of experiencing God’s glory.  

And that’s not all. We also celebrate in seasons of suffering because we know that when we suffer we develop endurance,  which shapes our characters. When our characters are refined, we learn what it means to hope and anticipate God’s goodness. 

And hope will never fail to satisfy our deepest need because the Holy Spirit that was given to us has flooded our hearts with God’s love.” (Romans 5:2-5 The Voice)

One of my photo editing programs has a “kaleidoscope” feature. A photo processed through this app seldom resembles the original, but it’s fun to play with. I tried processing a photo I took of rubble from a building leveled by fire. The result caught my attention because I could see what looked like areas of engraved gold and silver set in a polished stone tile. That would be a luxury on the floor of any palace.

How precious are the foundations laid for us by saints of the past whose lives were refined by the fires of tribulation.  It’s a lot easier to appreciate the refining process in the after picture than in the middle-of-the-disaster picture. It’s easier to sing, “Refiner’s fire, my heart’s one desire is to be holy,” than it is to recognize a refining process, let alone cooperate with it. Yet suffering leads to endurance and to character. The ability to hope and anticipate God’s goodness lays a precious foundation for the next generation – especially in the middle of what looks like a disastrous mess.

Creative Meditations for Lent, Word prompt: Refine