Beautiful Mystery

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“The sense of mystery must always be, for mystery means being guided by obedience to Someone who knows more than I do.”

~Oswald Chambers.

This is a digital manipulation of a photo I took of barren trees beside a winter road (see the little branches?).

Many times it is difficult to see how God can use things that appear dead in the cold dark season we are in, but He has a plan to make something beautiful of our lives.

How does he do it? It’s a mystery.


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I walked by the off-leash park the other day. I watched the dogs for a while after their owners released them. Some stay close to the gate at first, but they soon run for the open field. They expressed such joy in freedom.

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I’m thinking about “motivation.” It’s the word suggested for meditation today in the Lenten Snapshot challenge I am following. At first I thought about taking photos of the obvious, symbols of motivations for doing what I don’t want to do, like scales or a boot to the rear. But I tend to look for something different, so I began to think about my motivation for extending myself to do what I actually do want to do and don’t have to do.

In the past few years my motivation has changed. I used to base my actions on wanting to please God, please my family, and not annoy my neighbours too much. That meant subjecting myself to other people’s standards, and to some extent, “God’s standards” as defined by other people’s standards (aka their interpretation of the Bible.)

My friend helped me realize that my quest has changed. We were discussing why I can’t seem to make progress on the novel I’ve been writing (mostly in my head) for years.

“You realize this story is about you,” she said.

“Of course, I do. I only know what I know –or think I know– and that is going to come out.”

“Your heroine was born in a prison, right?”

“Yes. And then she ends up in a cloistered convent against her will and eventually tries to escape.”

“You are the one who was born in a prison and kept in a kind of convent, you know. You were cloistered by legalistic religion. You are the both the writer and the reader. You hit writer’s block when you changed your audience to a demographic that would be marketable. You need to free yourself from asking ‘What would please this audience?’ and get back to writing your way out of convention to the place of your own freedom.”

I doodled on the paper in front of me because that’s what I do when I’m thinking.

“You’re good,” I told her. Believe it or not, I ran out of words.

She put her finger on an inconsistency in my life, a misalignment. My motivation used to be guessing at what other people wanted and then fulfilling that need to make myself useful, and thereby avoid rejection. I’m changing. I am looking for freedom.

My motivation is changing. This verse to “the foolish Galatians,” who were trying to gain sanctification by going back to earning approval via the old covenant laws, inspires me to do what I do, to worship, to paint, to take photos, to write, to walk in the countryside, to sit around the table talking to kindred spirits. The Passion Translation (which I am calling the emotional content version) puts Galatians 5:1 this way:

Let me be clear, the Anointed One has set us free—not partially, but completely and wonderfully free! We must always cherish this truth and stubbornly refuse to go back into the bondage of our past.

I took photos as I walked around another park yesterday (aptly named “Idlewilde”). Winter snow and ice still cover the hills and lake. Trees rest in a dormant season that seems particularly long this year. But I find freedom in what I see. I see rest.

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I am more motivated by freedom from performance-based Christianity, freedom from trying to meet expectations that do not come from my loving heavenly father, freedom to be a human being and not a human doing, freedom to rest and know I am loved perfectly by the One who created all this.

I hear him say, “Be still. Cease striving. Know Me. Know that I am God. I will be exalted in the earth. I will be acknowledged by the nations. You are not in charge of fixing the world, nor my P. R.. You only have to extend the love you have known by the power of the grace you have been given.”

He takes off the religious leash and says, “Now run, girl. Run.”

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Prayer: The Secret Place

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I was thinking about the word “prayer” today when I passed by the creek. I paused and felt Jesus smile in an old familiar way.

When I was a child, I had a secret place where no one could find me. I dragged my little sled down the back lane, across the street and down into the gulley where the creek ran. That was in the days when kids could roam more freely. We just had to be home before supper – or before hypothermia set in.

In the summer the soggy earth at the bottom of the valley sucked the shoes right off your feet, but in the winter the mounds of bent grass and hummocks of earth proved solid under my feet. The sled gave me a dry place to sit among the bulrushes. Sometimes the water bubbled under the ice and sometimes it flowed through open channels. No one could see me. I sat quietly for hours, telling Jesus things I couldn’t tell anybody else.

I didn’t know I was praying. I thought prayer involved reciting rhymes at the dinner table, or at bedtime or making speeches to God in a voice loud enough for Him to hear in case he was sitting in the back row like the other people who hoped to make a fast getaway. I thought silent prayer happened at those times when the preacher told everyone to be quiet and think about what horrible sinners they were and how much they had disappointed God. Then he told us to apologize and promise to never do it again –knowing we would, because we were, as was mentioned frequently, horrible sinners with “desperately wicked hearts.”

I was afraid of that god. I assumed he was like my grandfather and always angry with me for making noises and messes. I didn’t talk to that god when I was down in the gully, but I could talk to Jesus, because he was more like a brother.

Most of the time I don’t think I said anything. I sat in my secret place and listened to the crows or the ga-bloop sound of the water trying to break free from the ice. I didn’t know that sitting still, and saying nothing, just being, was prayer.

We learn to know the Saviour in the secret place. But he is not limited to that place. The corporate knowledge of his presence is also important. Prayers in agreement with other believers are powerful. Corporate prayer is different.

As an adult I have difficulty praying extemporaneous prayers in public. I try to become invisible when someone asks “Who wants to open in prayer?” My friends will tell you I have no problem speaking in front of people but praying is different. Jesus showed me what the father was really like, so I’m not afraid of him anymore, and once I recognized Holy Spirit I love his presence. It’s the other people in the room that make me uncomfortable.

Once, a person who I’m sure was trying to be encouraging, told me she thought I had prayed “some good prayers” at our regular prayer meetings, but suggested I pay attention to a couple of star intercessors and study their presentation. I began to wonder if they were going to hold up cards with scores on them. Technique: 4.9 Artistic Impression: 3.2

I didn’t stay.

You see, when I pray I am like that kid in the gully just talking with Jesus – if that kid were naked and without protective walls. I have to be completely transparent in the presence of God because he knows everything anyway, and really, who am I fooling?

I stammer in front of people. I’m not sure they’re as accepting as he is. I can let my guard down for a while, but my hand still holds the rope and pulley that whip it up pretty fast again. I’m working with being okay with what people think and staying focused on God and allowing the Holy Spirit in me to connect with the Holy Spirit in them. Unity in the Spirit doesn’t keep score, see prayer as “work,” or seek its own agenda. Unity in the Spirit means the Spirit leads in adoration and decides the priority of needs to bring to our relentlessly kind Abba — Father.

I’m thankful for trustworthy friends who are teaching me that where two or three are gathered, there is Jesus in the midst. He is the one we are looking to. Our hearts are centered on him.

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But I still meet him in the secret place wherever that might be now. I don’t always remember, but I still need to withdraw from the noise and rapid pace of life to sit still in the quiet with him. Today he again met with me down by the creek, in the snow, just like in the old days.


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Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. (Psalm 51:7 NASB)

The word I’m contemplating today is clean. It’s ironic that quoting this phrase from Psalm 51 brings up memories of condemnation because of guilt by association.

When I was a young teenager I went to my friend’s church. The speaker that morning was a missionary with their denomination who worked in Africa. I remember him railing against the missionaries with my family’s denomination. Their crime? They sang a song including the line, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall become white as snow.” He interpreted this as insensitive, blatant racism.

I felt defensive and ashamed at the same time – as a child does when confronted by an attack on her own tribe and who realizes the attacker could be partially right. I had never considered that metaphors carry different meanings to different people, or that someone could take this literally. Did they really think the song could mean ‘Come to Jesus and he can make your skin just like my vastly superior white skin?” If so, that would be horribly insensitive.

When she found out which church I usually went to, my friend’s sister spat out, “Literalist!” I looked down at my pink skin with its random brown polka dots and wondered where the term ‘white’ came from. I certainly wasn’t white as snow. I guess I wasn’t a very good literalist either.

In dream interpretation, symbols can be very personal. If dogs are mangy, snarling, scavengers in your neighbourhood, a dog showing up in your dream will carry a different connotation than if you grew up in a place where dogs curl up on laps and eat organic puppy food from their human’s hand.

The symbol of snow can carry different meaning as well. I live in a place where dazzling white snow makes you reach for sunglasses. I also tire of snow. I haven’t seen a blade of green grass in months. The snow shovelled onto piles by the sidewalk in front of my house is not exactly pure white right now. Between the sand flung from passing trucks, evidence of healthy digestive systems left by passing animals, and the absorption of dullness from a dismal grey sky, the view from my window is not particularly inspiring. Snow can be dazzling, as it was when I captured the moment in the photo above, but at the moment, snow carries a different connotation for me.

Snow falls in the Middle East far less often than it does here. Perhaps people who live in warm climates regard snow as a strange white wonder. I don’t know. I don’t live there.

The people behind the development of The Passion Translation phrased this passage differently in their attempt to accurately capture David’s feelings when confronted by his own hidden sin.

I know that you delight to set your truth deep in my spirit.
So come into the hidden places of my heart
and teach me wisdom.
Purify my conscience! Make this leper clean again!
Wash me in your love until I am pure in heart.
Satisfy me in your sweetness, and my song of joy will return.
The places within me you have crushed
will rejoice in your healing touch.
Hide my sins from your face;
erase all my guilt by your saving grace.
Create a new, clean heart within me.
Fill me with pure thoughts and holy desires, ready to please you.


Sometimes we miss a writer’s or speaker’s point because our minds snag on the way something is expressed in the process of getting to the main point. If we are expecting to hear something offensive, we will hear insults. If we are looking for negative messages, they will be projected like grey sky on a pile of snow. We tend to see what we are looking for.

Deep places of the heart post guards around pain. Defensiveness seeks to disqualify the light from revealing pain or shame. When we have our guard up we can miss the sweetness and joy that comes from knowing we are forgiven and cleansed from all unrighteousness. We miss knowing true tender love from Abba Father when we keep him at a distance.

There is more. There is love, joy, peace and deep healing available when we turn to our maker and ask him to create a clean heart in us.

He is willing.

While I reminisced about my youth, a song from the 70s began to play in my head. Apt, considering today’s theme.


*In a case of amusing timing, I just learned from the results of a DNA test one of my adult kids received, that I passed on some Nigerian genes to my progeny. I’m even less white than the missionary assumed.



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It wasn’t the kind of day when people think about going to the lake. I heard no boats, or children’s laughter, or squealing teens in the middle of a splash fight. I smelled no sweet  poplar sap or tangy sauce from smoking barbecues. The quiet off-season offers a different perception.

Someone suggested creating a photographic meditation during the Lent season as a preparatory discipline for Resurrection Sunday. If this were a religious requirement to add to a to-do list in order to appease an angry or narcissistic god, I would not participate, believe me. This is voluntary. I respond to this appeal to worship creatively. I make no promises about blogging the process daily. Not everything on the journey is for public consumption, but I will share my thoughts today.

Today’s word is surface, and yet, divergent (maybe even contrary) thinker that I am, I find I find myself drawn to go beyond the obvious and look for objects below the surface.

In a discussion with the religious “experts” of his time, who accused him of breaking the law by healing someone on the day of obligatory rest, Jesus said this:

“My message is not my own; it comes from God who sent me. Anyone who wants to do the will of God will know whether my teaching is from God or is merely my own. Those who speak for themselves want glory only for themselves, but a person who seeks to honor the one who sent him speaks truth, not lies. Moses gave you the law, but none of you obeys it! In fact, you are trying to kill me.”

The people who couldn’t hear pushed back.

The crowd replied, “You’re demon possessed! Who’s trying to kill you?”

Jesus replied, “I did one miracle on the Sabbath, and you were amazed. But you work on the Sabbath, too, when you obey Moses’ law of circumcision. (Actually, this tradition of circumcision began with the patriarchs, long before the law of Moses.) For if the correct time for circumcising your son falls on the Sabbath, you go ahead and do it so as not to break the law of Moses. So why should you be angry with me for healing a man on the Sabbath? Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly. (John 7:16-24 NLT)

Look beneath the surface.

We took a course on parenting teens. The teacher urged us to engage with our kids when emotional issues arose so we could understand the beliefs they held “below the water line.” The example he gave was of a girl who was desperate wanted to make a cheer-leading team and devastated when she didn’t.

After a heart to heart talk, the mother learned her daughter had accepted some lies about herself. Making the squad would squash her fears that inadequate attractiveness, or athletic talent would hinder her acceptance by people in her world. Under the water, lying unseen, was the shallow belief that her worth, her safety, her happiness, depended on what people thought about her and not on what God thought or could do. She was on the verge of making dangerous choices based on an unexamined false assumption.

The example prompted me to examine unconscious beliefs in my own life. One of the questions coming out of that experience was, “Why have I placed the approval of  humans (who can be very disappointing) ahead of the approval of the One who loves me perfectly and so selflessly that he was willing to give his only Son to demonstrate that love?”

In the altercation with the religious experts Jesus says it is possible to see below the surface. Their motive was not based on love. His was.

Jesus’ demonstration of love changed everything. God’s new covenant was not a reform school arrangement with punishments for breaking rules meant to clue rebellious kids into the fact that they are not actually in charge. God’s new covenant is based on responding to his love. Since you can’t say yes to love if you can’t say no, freedom is an essential part of this arrangement. Grace offers freedom. Grace is a terrifying concept to religious experts who are themselves motivated by fear of punishment.

Solomon, the king who was granted wisdom in response to his request to rule well, wrote:

There is a way which seems right to a man,
But its end is the way of death.
(Proverbs 14:12 NASB)

When we are being rational we use reason. When we rationalize we try to give actions, which seem right to us, the appearance of reason. We can be quite convincing — especially to ourselves. Sometimes our “appearance of reason” involves false ideas about God.

How can we know what lies down there? First, by admitting there is stuff down there. Second, by asking for help.

I keep coming back to Psalm 139. The psalmist sings about being intimately known by the Creator from his first moment of existence. It ends this way:

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way.

Jesus is saying, “Look beneath the surface.” The surgeons who removed the nasty malignant tumour in my guts in October would not have been able to do so if I not had the guts to subject myself to diagnostic scans or to sign consent forms. I admit it was a struggle to trust them. It hurt. But now it is done and I am healing well.

In this season of preparation I am asking the Lord to help me see beneath the surface and lead me in his way of thinking.

Change my heart, oh God. Make it ever new. I give consent.

And I don’t say that lightly.