“Learning to weep, learning to keep vigil, learning to wait for the dawn. Perhaps this is what it means to be human.”
– Henri Nouwen
“Learning to weep, learning to keep vigil, learning to wait for the dawn. Perhaps this is what it means to be human.”
– Henri Nouwen
“I hear it all day, Grandma,” my grandson said with the same tone of exasperation I’ve heard in my own voice. “Tommy*, don’t run. Don’t run. Don’t run!” He rolled his eyes. “I hear it at school. I hear it at daycare. I hear it at the pool. I hear it at the mall. I hear it everywhere. Tommy, don’t run!” He put his hand on my arm and looked deeply into my eyes. “It haunts my dreams, Grandma.”
He was so cute, I wanted to smile, but I chose instead to treat him with the same respect all people deserve and listen.
Oh, honey, I hear you. I know God created you to be a runner. You just have to move. It’s hard for you, I know.
I’m on the other end of the age scale, but my dreams are haunted by admonishment and reminders of restrictions other people want to put on me too. Don’t sing. Don’t dance. Don’t laugh loudly. Don’t think for yourself. Do as you’re told. Don’t associate with the wrong people. Be aware of every possible thing that could offend or disturb anyone, anywhere and don’t offend them. Oh, and remember that those who have no problem giving offense are often the most easily offended. Keep your opinions –and especially your odd sense of humour– to yourself. Be quiet, be quiet, be quiet!
I hear you, my boy, because there is never an end to people who want to place restrictions on your desire to run, to dance, to sing, to laugh, to talk and to just be free. But here’s the thing: Their rules and regulations and protocols have holes. Big holes. They can’t keep out the light. They are defenseless against goodness and peace. Kindness leaks across property lines. Gentleness dismantles barbed wire. Joy makes them jealous. Peace irritates them no end, and love, well love elevates restrictions to a higher court where the judge is the one who made you. All of this equipment is available to you if you follow Jesus. He’s gone ahead of you and will show you where he stashed them, if you ask.
So you shine, boy. Run the race that is set before you and eventually the critics and accusers will either have to join you or be left behind.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22, 23 NIV)
*Not his real name
When I was a child I wondered who good Mrs. Murphy was. My teacher was named Mrs. Murphy and she was good, at least she was good to the kids who knew the right answers to her questions. She was not as kind to the naughty boys at the back of the classroom, but she didn’t follow them around, as far as I knew. Still we sang in Sunday School, “Good Mrs. Murphy shall follow me all the days of my life,” so there had to be a good Mrs. Murphy somewhere.
It wasn’t until I read the words in the Bible for myself that I realized I had misheard. “Goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” I still didn’t understand what it meant, but it let Mrs. Murphy off the hook.
I misheard a lot of things about God when I was young. Sometimes I heard clearly but the speaker “misspoke.” I also skipped over a lot of things I heard and read, but since I had little experience, they remained in a file of “nice sayings” stored on a dusty shelf in the recesses of my brain. Later, when life tests showed up, I needed to dive into that file and learn what they were truly about.
Today I was reminded of my frustration two years ago. I have trouble walking very far, but I have improved a lot. Two years ago, I could hardly walk around my own house. I have always loved walking in the woods and often rambled in the countryside and through the streets of our town looking for beautiful things to photograph. Photography has been a way of intentionally looking for beauty in a world where we are confronted with so many demonstrations of the lack of goodness and mercy between people.
We live in a different city now. Spring arrived about a month sooner than I have been accustomed to. I can’t walk as far as I want to yet, but I can walk. For that I am very thankful. This week, I visited a local garden originally planted by a woman from Scotland over a hundred years ago.
As I stopped to appreciate every sign of colour and new life, I felt peace. I felt my spirit rest in the goodness of the Creator of beauty and the love of beauty he placed in the heart of a young woman far from everything that was familiar to her.
A song is playing in my head today:
I love You, Lord
Oh Your mercy never fails me
All my days, I’ve been held in Your hands
From the moment that I wake up
Until I lay my head
Oh, I will sing of the goodness of God.
I have looked back over the years of my life and seen “Good Mrs. Murphy” guarding my steps. It turns out Mrs. Murphy is actually my Father, my Friend, and my God.
For the Scriptures tell us:
Whoever wants to embrace true life
and find beauty in each day
must stop speaking evil, hurtful words
and never deceive in what they say.
Always turn from what is wrong
and cultivate what is good;
eagerly pursue peace in every relationship,
making it your prize.
(1 Peter 3:9-11 TPT)
I’m a stomper. When my anger is triggered by injustice toward myself —or especially toward vulnerable children— I go outside for a stomp. I go out whether it’s raining, or snowing, or if I’m in pain and limping heavily as I shove my walker through four inches of gravel. (Really! Who advertises handicap accessible trails then covers them with thousands of little wheel grabbing rocks?)
I don’t take my camera with me on these jaunts because I am busy composing defensive responses to obtuse accusers (absent from my side but repeating insults in my head) or writing imaginary posts to corrupt authorities (who will probably remain totally unaware of my important opinion) I’m too busy to notice anything photo-worthy. I’m snapping, but not in a sensitive creative way. Sometimes I walk away from a tense situation to avoid saying something to someone I will later regret.
I didn’t realize until these past few days of rumination following an excellent seminar on healing traumatized churches led by Ron Wean of Florida, that my habit of stomping out my rage is a way of getting out of the fight mode of the infamous flight/fight/freeze trilogy of survival responses to trauma (or the triggers of unprocessed memories of trauma stored in the body). Movement renews connection with the body and the logical/creative brain God gave us. I know I’m back when I can feel more than my own emotional pain and can see more than dark ugliness. The expression, “blind rage” was probably created by someone who was familiar with it.
I’m not anti-emotion. Not at all! Anger can be a useful emotion. It lets us know that all is not well like the check engine light on the car dashboard. The discomfort of angry feelings can let us know that something is not right in ourselves. It can motivate self-examination and change. Anger modified by self-control has been behind many reforms from freedom from slavery to the end of entrenched genocide. We are told: “In your anger, do not sin,” (Ephesians 4:26) and “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” (Romans 12:9) I’m not talking about becoming an emotionless doormat. I’m talking about choosing to not return evil for evil (with compounded interest) or seek revenge.
This morning I read this scripture passage in 1 Peter about finding beauty. I had never noticed before that speaking hurtful words in retaliation and neglecting to pursue peace can keep us locked in a world without beauty. Beauty remains hidden in the places where ugliness and darkness demand all the attention.
I thought that an intentional search for beauty would bring peace, but what if it is the other way around? What if a lack of peace hinders our ability to see beauty? What if peace improves our vision?
What if the pursuit of peace means letting go of wrathful words and unconscious tit-for-tat exaggerations and lopsided partial truths formed whilst in survival mode? What if the pursuit of peace means leaving our own devices and turning to the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, who entered our trauma out of love and compassion to bring us his peace, the peace that passes understanding?
Lord, remind us to turn from what is wrong and cultivate what is good. Open our eyes to see beauty again as we pursue peace in every relationship. Heal our hearts and renew a right spirit within us.
Plenteous grace with Thee is found,
Grace to cover all my sin;
Let the healing streams abound;
Make and keep me pure within.
Thou of life the fountain art,
Freely let me take of Thee;
Spring Thou up within my heart,
Rise to all eternity.
-From “Jesus, Lover of My Soul” by Charles Wesley
One of the most painful moments in my life was when a person I admired announced they had no more grace for me. An annoying trait, that no doubt needed correction, inspired them to dump a load of dis-grace on me instead. I was devastated.
Trauma has roots like weeds that crop up in a garden bed far from the original invasive plant. I felt shame and ran when the flight option in the flight/fight/freeze trio of survival actions seemed most attractive. It took a while to realize that the original painful weed of rejection had spread to this corner of my life, its subconscious presence undetected for many years. I heard it sing a minor key lament from long ago, “Jesus is disappointed with you.”
Growing up in a competitive world where only the best smiled for the camera while the rest slunk out the door for the eliminated, harsh words felt like familiar shameful judgments of disgrace. I wept bitterly. The “NOT GOOD ENOUGH” stamp of disapproval showed up again on the bottom of my application for acceptance.
It was a horrible time and a good time. God can use anything and this time he used a person who also struggled with shame to point out that I was knocking on the wrong door. You can’t give what you have not received or received only in measured installments. I wanted another struggling sojourner to give me what only God could supply. That wasn’t going to work. I needed to find the source.
“Ask me,” he said.
“Ask you for what?” I mumbled, head hanging low.
“Ask me about my grace.”
“I don’t deserve your grace.”
“True. No one does. That’s the beauty. You can’t earn it. Failures only need apply.”
I did ask, and since then I’ve learned that my response to God’s empowering grace can be greater than a grudging, “Thanks for not hitting me when I deserved a good smiting.” It’s now “Thanks for showing me the way you see me and giving me the resources to become that person.”
Thank you, Lord, for grace that is plenteous and greater than barely sufficient grace, or scratch and dent grace for the less deserving, or grace that offers anonymity as a cover for permanent stains on the soul. Thanks for accepting me just as I am. Thanks for grace that heals and purifies and rises up to all eternity.
There is something about the crocus flower that symbolizes eagerness to me. They remind me of my childhood family walking over hills covered with last years dry grass and through thickets of gray branches to reach a trail that was still edged with melting snow. I remember the cold wind rushing down the mountainside making jackets billow and long hair whip around in every direction.
If we had been hiking in the late autumn, after everything with colour had blown away, we would have complained about how nasty that cold Alberta wind could be. But in the spring, the same temperature and the same stiff breeze felt wonderfully warm. We tucked hats and gloves into deep pockets and ran into the wind, our arms raised high as if to catch all the promises of spring in our hands.
A south-facing hillside showing off crocus flowers bobbing their heads in the breeze was our reward and evidence of better times and brighter days ahead. Yes, there would be disappointing blustery snowy icy days before winter fully released it’s grip, but the season of growth and harvest approached.
After this latest season of Lent and a time of allowing myself to be aware of the darkness Christ came to illuminate, the week after Easter feels like receiving the freedom to run toward the gifts He promised. One of those was the presence of the Holy Spirit who walks beside us and never leaves. He tells us through Paul:
Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy.
(1 Corinthians 14:1 NIV)
Crocus flowers are like fuzzy purple floral forerunners who respond to the season change before the other flowers. That’s what New Testament prophecy makes possible –being the first to see what others miss in changing times and responding to it in faith.
Teach me your ways, Lord. Show me your paths. Lead me in the way everlasting. Let me run into the wind with joy.
“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.
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
“When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?”
I marvel at God’s handiwork from the most miniscule particle to unimaginable distances in space. I am fascinated by the power of the sun’s explosions and the sensitivity of tiny cilia in the inner ear. I marvel at his strength and his gentleness. God’s omnipotence is so perfectly under control that the most vulnerable person, broken by the cruelty of the world, can come to him, lean her head on his chest, call him “Abba,” and know she is perfectly safe.
Revive us again, O God! I know you will! Give us a fresh start!
Then all your people will taste your joy and gladness.
Pour out even more of your love on us!
Reveal more of your kindness and restore us back to you!
Now I’ll listen carefully for your voice
and wait to hear whatever you say.
Let me hear your promise of peace—
the message every one of your godly lovers longs to hear.
Don’t let us in our ignorance turn back from following you.
For I know your power and presence shines on all your devoted lovers.
Your glory always hovers over all who bow low before you.
Your mercy and your truth have married each other.
Your righteousness and peace have kissed.
Flowers of your faithfulness are blooming on the earth.
Righteousness shines down from the sky.
Psalm 85:6-11 TPT