Carry

Creative Meditations for Lent. Word prompt: Carry

There are so many ways I could go with the word carry. Carry out, carry through, carry on, carry over, carry away, carry around…  What I hear in my heart is a line from a song by Selah called “Audrey’s Song.” The part of the song I keep hearing is “I will carry you.”

The song is sung by a mother to her child in the womb. Doctors told the parents that the baby had anomalies incompatible with life and recommended abortion. Instead, the they chose to love their child and honour the life she had, how ever short it would be. (Warning, it’s a tear-jerker.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1MI9duC9mXQ

I Will Carry You (Audrey’s Song) by Selah from the album “You Deliver Me”

There were photographs I wanted to take

Things I wanted to show you

Sing sweet lullabies, wipe your teary eyes

Who could love you like this?

People say that I am brave but I’m not

Truth is I’m barely hanging on

But there’s a greater story

Written long before me

Because He loves you like this

I will carry you

While your heart beats here

Long beyond the empty cradle

Through the coming years I will carry you

All my life

And I will praise the One Who’s chosen me

To carry you

Such a short time

Such a long road

All this madness

But I know

That the silence

Has brought me to His voice

And He says … I’ve shown her photographs of time beginning

Walked her through the parted seas

Angel lullabies, no more teary eyes

Who could love her like this?

I thought about others in the faith who died young. I have often wondered why Jesus chose James, along with his brother of John – the other half of the sons of thunder— and Peter, to be his three closest companions. Jesus would have known that James wasn’t going to live long. King Herod had him “put to the sword.” In a manner all too common in political machinations, when he saw favourable numbers in the local population’s response to his handling of the disruption caused by these Jesus followers, Herod decided to kill some more of them. Peter was miraculously delivered from prison, but James hadn’t been. James was killed.

Why would Jesus invest so heavily in someone who wouldn’t be around very long? Who can say James’ life was of less value than the life of John who lived to a very old age? Jesus obviously loved him and could have rescued him. James obviously had faith and he was surrounded by the same faithful people who prayed for Peter to be released.

Somehow, we have adopted the idea that a successful life is a long life, that people ought to be valued for accomplishments, or at least potential accomplishments. Baby Audrey lived outside her mother’s womb for only two hours, but I believe God saw her life was as valuable and he loved and appreciated her as much as a 100-year-old woman with many accolades.

God loves us for who we are. He loves us because he loves us. Nothing we do or don’t do can make him love us any more or any less. Can we also take the risk of loving someone who may be leaving life on earth shortly? Being separated from a loved one is extremely painful, but not eternally painful. I admire those who can risk the pain of loss and love freely, carrying another person in their heart because they know they are loved by Love Himself.

He will carry them too.

Why the photo of spring flowers on the windowsill? These words in 1 Peter inspired me.

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. 

For, ‘All people are like grass,
    and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
     but the word of the Lord endures forever.’

And this is the word that was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:22-25)

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.

Shield

I’m using an old photo today because it fits so well. One day I was up in the woods praying, well complaining to God, actually.

“I feel like no matter which way I move, the way is blocked. I don’t understand what is going on. It’s like my hearing is muffled and I can see clearly enough or far enough to have a sense of which direction I should take. Everything I know to try is inadequate. I feel stifled and cramped in this place, and I don’t know what to do. What is this dark confining place? And what am I doing here? Where am I?

A still quiet, but firm voice answered, “Under my wing.”

I try to remember this when I feel the need to do something – anything, to fool myself into feeling like I’m in control, like I can rely on my own wisdom and see the eternal repercussions of a decision. Sometimes God is protecting me from the world, and sometimes I think he might be protecting the world from me — especially when I’m sputtering outrage.

Sometimes the safest place is when I am not insisting on being control and instead, I’m invisible to “fans” and “foes,” known and unknown. There’s a time to explore and there’s a time to run home. Sometimes, in those intense moments of choosing to respond to God, of choosing to agree to stay hidden in Him, and not giving away my position with a random self-defensive squawk, I remember this song using St. Patrick’s words. God’s love is a shield that has us covered front, back, side to side, and above and below. The song is called St. Patrick’s Breastplate. It’s also called the Deer’s Cry.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me

Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me

Christ on my right, Christ on my left

Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down

Christ in me, Christ when I arise

Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me

Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me

Christ in every eye that sees me

Christ in every ear that hears me

Christ with me

Voces8 sings Arvo Part’s setting. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ir3htl3UlBk&list=RDIr3htl3UlBk&index=1

March 17, 2022 seems like a good day to pay attention to it.

Creative Meditations for Lent, Word prompt: Shield

Slow Down

This has been a difficult time in British Columbia. A massive storm caused floods that destroyed roads and bridges and triggered landslides. The photos are heartbreaking. We are okay in our new home In Kelowna, but since the highways between here and the major west coast port and main agricultural areas of the province were closed we are very aware of the devastating consequences of the storm. People who had been travelling were stranded and trucks and trains carrying goods couldn’t connect with the interior of the province (although I believe one round-about route is open for essential travel now.)

Panic buying started a week ago and many shelves were empty by the next day. The grocery store near us had no fresh produce (other than cilantro and a few potatoes), no meat other than expensive steaks, no eggs, no dairy products, no bread, no rice, no canned or frozen vegetables or fruit, and no toilet paper. For those of us accustomed to abundance, it was a shock.

When disaster occurs I go into survival mode. My mind races ahead to prepare for all the possibilities we could face. Perhaps it comes from being a mother who had to anticipate dangerous situations children could get into or inconveniences I could face if I neglected to pack everything I could possibly need in the diaper bag. I like to be prepared, but after years of trying to be ahead of the game, I realized I had taught myself to expect a worst-case scenario. This time I decided not to rush out and buy more than we usually bought for the week.

In the midst of the panic I heard a song by Jonathan Ogden that was new to me. It was called “Slow Down.” I still have so much to do with settling in to this new place that the thought of slowing down was, frankly, a little annoying. Then I realized that God was using the song to speak to my heart about the need to slow my racing thoughts and listen for his voice.

The oft-quoted scripture verse, “Be still and know that I am God,” is in Psalm 46 which describes situations that are anything but tranquil. The first three verses in The Passion Translation read:

God, you’re such a safe and powerful place to find refuge!
    You’re a proven help in time of trouble—
more than enough and always available whenever I need you.
 So we will never fear
    even if every structure of support were to crumble away.
    We will not fear even when the earth quakes and shakes,
    moving mountains and casting them into the sea.
 For the raging roar of stormy winds and crashing waves
    cannot erode our faith in you.
(Pause in his presence
)

Lately I’ve been having dreams about the importance of staying close to God in these perilous times. I know it’s absolutely necessary to lean on him and trust his ways. Sometimes his ways are counter-intuitive, but the impossible becomes possible when let God be God.

This is not about passivity or laziness. We still work to help feed and house evacuees or doing whatever we can to help those affected by the storm. This about learning to quiet our souls and becoming more effective because we come from a place of rest and trust where fear doesn’t call the shots.

Surrender your anxiety.
    Be still and realize that I am God.
    I am God above all the nations,
    and I am exalted throughout the whole
earth.

That My Heart May Sing

Moving to a new city in a time of pandemic adds complications to an already complicated endeavour. It’s hard to get to know people in our building of residents who are all over 55 years old. Most of us have experienced nearly two years of abnormal social interaction. Posters on doors, windows, bulletin boards, and in elevators reminding us constantly of pandemic protocol orders, and daily doses of fear-inducing you-could-be-next public announcements in every kind of media do not exactly encourage people to welcome strangers with open arms.

It’s hard to read expressions behind masks. It’s easy to interpret closed doors, steps back, averted eyes, and offers to send the elevator back for you as snubs when frightened people are just practising contamination avoidance. It’s understandable, but it still feels like living in a world gone mad.

I feel like the new kid at school trying to find a friend, but this time I’m wondering why the other kids treat me like I have cooties. Oh right. It’s not just me. It’s the madness.

Someone told me once that their job often left them feeling socially isolated. He had one of those trusted positions where he saw people in moments of weakness and knew embarrassing details about their personal lives. His best friend and his own confidante had just moved to another country, and he felt the isolation deeply. He spoke to God about it, lamenting that he had no close friend he could rely on. Then something changed. It was one of those times when he heard the voice of the Comforter strongly in his spirit. “I can be your friend.”

Sometimes I wonder if these times of not having people to turn to for comfort, are to push us toward closer fellowship with God.

I’ve written before about how God speaks to me in music. This week I woke up singing an old pop old song – or at least the line from an old pop song. It was: “I can take all the madness the world has to give, but I won’t last a day without you.”

I realized that my heart was singing. My spirit was rising up when my head was stuck in logic mode. Even in my sleep there is something inside me that needs to praise God and refocus my attention on the true foundation of my life: The Three in One who is my Creator, my Saviour Hero, and my Friend.

It’s funny how a pop song can turn into a worship song when it comes from the heart and is directed to the One worthy of all praise. I looked up the rest of the lyrics.

Day after day I must face a world of strangers
Where I don’t belong, I’m not that strong
It’s nice to know that there’s someone I can turn to
Who will always care, you’re always there

When there’s no getting over that rainbow
When my smallest of dreams won’t come true
I can take all the madness the world has to give
But I won’t last a day without you

So many times when the city seems to be without a friendly face
A lonely place

It’s nice to know that you’ll be there if I need you

And you’ll always smile, it’s all worthwhile

When there’s no getting over that rainbow
When my smallest of dreams won’t come true
I can take all the madness the world has to give
But I won’t last a day without you


Touch me and I end up singing
Troubles seem to up and disappear
You touch me with the love you’re bringing
I can’t really lose when you’re near

If all my friends have forgotten half their promises
They’re not unkind, just hard to find
One look at you and I know that I could learn to live


Without the rest, I found the best

When there’s no getting over that rainbow
When my smallest of dreams won’t come true
I can take all the madness the world has to give
But I won’t last a day without you.

(“But I Won’t Last a Day” by Roger Nichols and Paul Williams)


Like the Psalmist I can also sing:

You turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
Lord my God, I will praise you forever.

Psalm 30:11,12

Restore. Reveal.

My friend, Linda, introduced me to videos by an art restoration master named Julian Baumgartner. There is something deeply satisfying about watching beauty being restored and revealed.

Grime and pollutants can add up so slowly we don’t realize that we have lost sight of the intent of the artist, that what we pay to see in museums is not what it looked like originally. Many old works are actually so much better than we thought when restoration reveals the true beauty underneath.

Some of the works Mr. Baumgartner restores look like they have been through a war. They are torn, gouged, chipped, patched, warped, filthy and seriously distressed. I often wonder how he can ever make them look presentable again. And yet he does.

As I was watching another episode today, words from middle stanzas of an old hymn I heard when I was a squirmy, unappreciative, bored kid in the pew came to mind:

Though with a scornful wonder
men see her sore oppressed,
by schisms rent asunder,
by heresies distressed,
yet saints their watch are keeping,
their cry goes up, “How long?”
And soon the night of weeping
shall be the morn of song.

The church shall never perish!
Her dear Lord to defend,
to guide, sustain, and cherish,
is with her to the end;
though there be those that hate her,
and false sons in her pale,
against both foe and traitor
she ever shall prevail.

Mid toil and tribulation,
and tumult of her war,
she waits the consummation
of peace forevermore;
till with the vision glorious
her longing eyes are blest,
and the great church victorious
shall be the church at rest.

(from The Churches One Foundation by Samuel John Stone)

Considering how enormously valuable many of the old paintings restorers work on are, I wonder why owners have not taken better care of them. Perhaps familiarity with family heirlooms has bred a type of contempt. Perhaps owners have left them in storage and lost sight of what lies underneath layers of discoloured varnish and dirt.

I wonder if, under the grime of corruption and the distorting effects of neglect, what many people think the Church of Christ, the Body, the Ekklesia looks like is not what they think it is. I wonder if we, the living stones that make up the Church Jesus talked about, are in need of restoration to what the Creator intended us to be — those who can be identified by love as the Holy Spirit flows through them.

Repentance is change. Submission to Christ is a willingness to allow him to clean us up and restore us to be the visibly beautiful work of art he intended us to be.

Anyway, those are the words that catch my attention today. Restore. Reveal.

God has so much more for us. So much more.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from Your presence
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation
And sustain me with a willing spirit.

(Psalm 51:10-12 NASB)

Bulwark

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The song in my head this morning: A Mighty Fortress

Martin Luther (a sometimes rude, crude, very imperfect man who unintentionally started something bigger than himself) wrote this song in a time of great societal upheaval. It’s funny how you can hear something so many times it loses it’s meaning. Like chewing gum on its fourth hour it had lost it’s flavour. I’ve plodded my way through this old hymn many times without really listening anymore.

This morning, before I woke, I heard the lines:

“His craft and power are great and armed with cruel hate…”

“The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him…one little word shall fell him.” 

“Were not the right man on our side… Christ Jesus, it is he…” 

“Our Helper, he amidst the flood of mortal ills prevailing.”

It’s like I heard the lyrics for the first time and sensed I needed to pay attention. Yesterday, after listening to confusing reports of the source of peaceful stands for justice turned to violence in the streets, I asked, “What is actually going on out there?”

This is what’s happening. There is a war going on — a struggle between hate and love. The world is changing. God wins.

Leave No Unguarded Place

Caesarea Maritime G_7428 vaulted ceiling ch crop

I woke up with a verse of a song playing in my head.

Leave no unguarded place,
No weakness of the soul,
Take every virtue, every grace,
And fortify the whole.
From strength to strength go on,
Wrestle and fight and pray,
Tread all the powers of darkness down
And win the well-fought day.

It’s from the hymn, Soldiers of Christ Arise, written by Charles Wesley. His brother, John, is famous for leading a well-known spiritual awakening, but it’s Charles’ verses that come to memory for me.

I looked for a video performance of the song but none that I saw had the tone of gentle encouragement I felt when I heard this part of it in my spirit. Some of them used photos of modern military and others featured large choirs and brass fanfares.

None of them felt right because “wrestle and fight and pray” doesn’t take place in the middle of patriotic hoopla for me. The battle, for me, takes place mostly in my bed at night when I wrestle with doubt, fight fear, and pray from a position of being very aware of weakness. The only strutting involved is when I am trying to walk the cramps out of my legs, and technically, that looks more like lurching.

I don’t feel particularly virtuous when I am complaining about pain. I don’t feel particularly strong when worries attack without the defenses of daylight logic camouflage. My prayers contain no self-conscious public speech-making bravado. Mostly they are moans, for myself, for my family, for my friends, for my country, for this world where the powers of darkness, in a variety of costumes, seem to be clog dancing on the face of those suffering injustice.

And yet, I hear the voice of my Lord saying, “Get up. Put your armour on.”

In his kindness, Holy Spirit first points out places in my heart that need to be fortified with his love, joy, peace, patience kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. Then he reminds me of his lavish, empowering grace.

He reminds me that when I fall, I don’t have to go all the way back to the beginning. My new starting point is where I left off last time. I am learning that I can fall, admit it, and get up to fight from strength to strength with his weapons — and aim them at the real enemy, not the hostages.

The process involves acknowledging the unguarded places in my soul where lies about who God is and who I am in Christ have slipped in unnoticed. One common unguarded place is unforgiveness. Another is complaining. Someone told me that complaining is the worship language of hell and not to be surprised by who shows up for a pity party.

Wrestling, puzzling, pondering draws us closer to God. Sometimes trust means moving in obedience without any more insight than knowing he is good and he’s asked me to get up and pray.

Sometimes one crumb leads to another on the path to closer relationship. As I was pondering this song another came up:

Spirit of God, descend upon my heart;
Wean it from earth; through all its pulses move.
Stoop to my weakness, mighty as Thou art,
And make me love Thee as I ought to love.

Hast Thou not bid me love Thee, God and King?
All, all Thine own, soul, heart and strength and mind.
I see Thy cross; there teach my heart to cling:
Oh, let me seek Thee, and, oh, let me find!

Teach me to feel that Thou art always nigh;
Teach me the struggles of the soul to bear,
To check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh;
Teach me the patience of unanswered prayer.

Teach me to love Thee as Thine angels love,
One holy passion filling all my frame;
The kindling of the heaven-descended Dove,
My heart an altar, and Thy love the flame.
-George Croly

poppy fire ch DSC_0177

Today is Pentecost. The Holy Spirit came in power on a Pentecost day to enable the followers of Jesus to go from strength to strength. They couldn’t do it on their own.

Sometimes the next step is simply a practical one. While he fried up bacon and eggs, my husband patiently listened to me verbally process the significance of the music in my head and its metaphorical meaning.

“By the way,” he said, when I paused to take a sip of coffee, “You left the back door open last night.”

Note to self: check the doors before going to bed.

Self-propelled

IMG_4421 bicycle bw

A bicycle will get you there.

So will a jet — but much faster.

Wait.

I woke with two songs in my head today. One is The Boxer by Paul Simon. The other is Take Courage by Kristene de Marco. That’s an odd combination.

It’s a puzzle. I feel like the Holy Spirit is dropping breadcrumb hints. I follow. They lead to Jesus Christ, and the pandemic response, and the week between Ascension and Pentecost.

Before he left, Jesus told his disciples it was to their advantage that he leave. That must have been confusing. After he rose from the dead, he told them to wait to be empowered from above.  That must have been even more confusing. He had just come back. Something was coming that could not be explained with words common to their experience. They couldn’t understand. All they could do was trust and do as he said.

The Boxer, I realized as I listened again this morning, is about three responses to stress: flight, avoidance, and flight. The boy flees to the city. He succumbs to loneliness and takes comfort in loveless sex. The boxer, “in his anger and his shame,” fights on without success.

Take Courage talks about responding to stress with courage, steadfastness, and trust in a time of waiting when we don’t understand.

Today I heard the cry of more leaders in Christian ministries who are fleeing, self-medicating, and fighting not so gainfully on. All lament they feel like failures. All of them want very much to love others, relieve suffering, fight injustice, and make a difference in the world. They put in maximum effort, but they are exhausted, disappointed, broken.

One burned-out pastor, after receiving an invitation from his board to resign for failing to “put more bums in seats,” told me that with the current way most church structure operates, clergy are more like butlers than family members. They are there to work day and night for the betterment of the family, but when they themselves are tired, hurt, or losing hope, they learn they were never considered part of the family after all. They were hired help.

If you look around, it’s standard practise in many places to fire pastors when they are down. Perhaps there is more to loving each other than what we accept as “standard.”

There’s a reason why Jesus said to wait for this whoever-it-was to show up. The Holy Spirit would be their destiny, their comfort, their strength. He would teach them, reminding them of what Jesus told them. He would convict, he would transform, he would empower. Unlike Jesus in physical form, he could be everywhere and with everyone at once.

Without an external source of power, a self-propelled bicycle cannot go the distance. Without God’s grace to be who he empowers us to be, we all eventually become like the exhausted, disappointed, disillusioned character(s) in The Boxer.

In the Liturgical calendar, we are in the time between the Ascension (when Jesus was taken up in a cloud to sit the right hand of God) and Pentecost (when the Holy Spirit came in power). Many of us are sensing a shift in the spiritual atmosphere. Something is different. God is doing something, but what? I don’t know.

What I do know is that when we attempt to save the world through our own efforts we are in danger of breaking down. We need the Holy Spirit to lead, teach, convict, comfort, and empower. Waiting on the Lord requires steadfast trust as we lean in to hear the One whose promises never fail.

I am angered by lies and injustice and suffering all around. I am even more angered by my weaknesses. I want to do something – anything – to help. But I’m tired and in pain and struggling to understand truth in a barrage of “misinformation.” When I pray for wisdom, I hear, “Wait.”

So I wait.

 

 

And Then…

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Sometimes it takes me a while to figure out where my emotions are coming from. I agree with people who say we ought not to be led by emotions, but I don’t discount them. God created us with emotion for a reason. Jesus demonstrated a full range of emotional experience, and demonstrated their rightful place. Like the Psalmist I have been asking my soul, “Why are you downcast? Why are you disquieted?”

Grief has roots that tangle under the surface. You can’t tug on one without unsettling memories of other losses and separations. This time of pandemic-led physical separation, although not permanent (we hope), is also stirring up feelings of old losses. I miss my loved ones. I miss my friends. I miss my freedom. I know we shall soon meet again, but these nebulous emotions all end up in the same pot like some strange concoction of lament that ignores reason. It feels like grief.

I’ve been feeling a bit down and unusually nostalgic the last few days. Old movies, old songs, old photos, old recipes, and even old cars make me laugh, but also shed tears. This morning, it being Mother’s Day, I thought about my mother, who passed away eleven years ago. I wish I could sit in her kitchen and tell her about my day. I read many posts from motherless children and childless mothers on Facebook, so I know I am not the only one who is aware of the ambivalent feelings this day evokes.

Then I remembered this week also marks the anniversary of separation from my Dad as well.

Time shrinks and stretches with age, moreso without the usual daily landmarks that keep us oriented. What day is it? Has it been three or four years since I received the call that Dad died in his sleep? The fence needs painting again. Didn’t I just do that? Was it really almost sixty years since Daddy took the photo of Mom serving Kool-aid to the pretty little girls in their birthday party dresses? The house I grew up in shows up on Google maps. It is dwarfed by the trees my brother and I planted as seedlings we received at school. When did that happen?

Part of prayer is paying attention to the stirrings in our hearts as we lean in to hear our heavenly Father. God often speaks to me through music. As I asked him to bring clarity to this messy emotion a song started to play in my mind. It is Brahms’ setting of John 16:22. In English it reads:

“So will you also pass through a time of intense sorrow when I am taken from you, but you will see me again! And then your hearts will burst with joy, with no one being able to take it from you!” (from The Passion Translation that seeks to include emotional content)

These were Jesus’ words to his friends before he was taken from them. We know the next part of the story – that he conquered death and appeared to them again before ascending to his place with the Father. He told them, on that same evening he gave the warning, that something better was coming. He was sending the Holy Spirit to advocate, teach, comfort, and empower in his place.

We have the advantage of living on the other side of the cross. We know loss here and now, but we also know that Holy Spirit will never leave. He reminds us of the promise that is for both here and now and even more in the future: “Then your hearts will burst with joy with no one being able to take it from you!”

 

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

(Psalm 42:11 NIV)