Known

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To realize we are not lost in a massive crowd, to realize we are thoroughly and intimately known by the most powerful Being in the universe and to know that he still loves us is the source of all joy.

The Psalmist wrote:

“Lord, you know everything there is to know about me.” (Psalm 139:1 TPT)

Falling in love is a risky undertaking. The truth is that the romantic idea of falling love is often more about seeing ourselves as attractive and lovable than developing an altruistic love for another person. Attention from someone we don’t respect fails to carry much authority, but when a person we admire tells us, through word or action, that we are worthy of attention our sense of value goes up in our own eyes.

In the process of falling in love we gradually expose more of our heart’s vulnerabilities as we search for acceptance. It means lowering defences and possibly giving another person all the ammunition they need to hurt us. Some people feel the risk is too great, especially if they have known betrayal before. Mutual vulnerability is a kind of insurance, but no guarantee against deceit or exploitation.

At breakfast this morning my little granddaughter and I talked about what makes a good story as we munched our crunchies. All the princess stories, she pointed out, go mostly sad-scary-happy or sometimes scary-sad-happy. Sometimes she wants to stop reading the story during the scary part, (we’re reading The Secret Garden together). Happy-sad-scary stories are really bad, but who remembers happy-happy-happy stories?

Many stories of true love start with a misunderstanding of the nature of the other person. There’s a scary part. But…Mr. Darcy is wonderful after all! It’s the stuff of novels — especially paperback romances. The brisk woman in the foreman’s hat proves witty, warm, and kindhearted! The lone guy on horseback hides a poetic soft side under a tough exterior! Sad-scary-happy!

What if our guardedness keeps us from learning to clear up lies we have been told about someone? What if we have been told lies about the character of God? What if we bail at the scary part?

We miss the opportunity to be known and to see ourselves through the eyes of the One who loves us perfectly. If we dare not risk posing the trust question to our Creator for fear of condemnation or rejection we miss the chance not only to know Him, but to know ourselves.

Falling in love with God is becoming open and vulnerable to the only person in the universe who can show us how to fall in love with ourselves – the way He sees us in the future as well as the present, with acceptance and the power of grace to become so much more than we are now.

My word for the photographic meditation exercise yesterday was “known.” I have learned that God is the initiator. He loved us first. He has always known us. There is nothing in our hearts that shocks him. He risked everything to show us his amazingly love. He made the first move.

He says, “This is Me, naked and vulnerable on a cross out of love for you.”

Our part is to respond by taking the risk of saying, “Just as I am…this is me. Do you love me or am I just another stone among billions?”

He answers, “Yes. You. I love you. Just as you are. With an everlasting love.”

 

 

Silence Calls

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So much to do, but the snow falls softly and the silent forest calls.

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The Fruit of Silence

The fruit of silence is prayer.
The fruit of prayer is faith.
The fruit of faith is love.
The fruit of love is service.
The fruit of service is peace.

~ Mother Theresa

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~ Latvian composer Pēteris Vasks’ setting Of Mother Theresa’s poem

 

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The season of rest lingers.

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Receive.

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Even the Weakest

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I almost missed it. The rose on the diminutive plant in the foil-wrapped pot sat on a shelf in the corner of the shop. Elaborately decorated artificial Christmas trees lined the aisle, grabbing all the attention.

It couldn’t have been more than an inch across, this tiny delicate rose, but in the midst of manufactured razzle-dazzle tinsel and bauble it humbly declared integrity from its cradle of dirt. The rose was real, living, growing, opening to the winter light streaming through a dusty window.

I almost missed it. But then I didn’t.

Thank you, little rose, for sharing joy just by gathering the light from a single sunbeam as you sing your song on an out-of-the-way shelf. I see you. I hear you.

Lo, how a rose e’er blooming from tender stem has sprung.

 

Human strength and the weapons of man
are false hopes for victory;
they may seem mighty but they will always disappoint.

The eyes of the Lord are upon
even the weakest worshipers who love him—
those who wait in hope and expectation
for the strong, steady love of God…

 

As we trust, we rejoice with an uncontained joy
flowing from Yahweh!

Let your love and steadfast kindness overshadow us
continually, for we trust and we wait upon you!

(Psalm 33: 17, 18, 21, 22 The Passion Translation)

Nor Height, Nor Depth

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For I am convinced

that neither death,

nor life,

nor angels,

nor principalities,

nor things present,

nor things to come,

nor powers,

nor height,

nor depth,

nor any other created thing,

will be able to separate us from the love of God,

which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

(Romans 8:38, 39 NASB)

 

The height of the abuse of power. The depths of depravity. Neither are a match for love.

Speaking the Truth in Love

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But what I would like to say is that the spiritual life is a life in which you gradually learn to listen to a voice that says something else, that says, “You are the beloved and on you my favour rests.”… I want you to hear that voice. It is not a very loud voice because it is an intimate voice. It comes from a very deep place. It is soft and gentle. I want you to gradually hear that voice. We both have to hear that voice and to claim for ourselves that that voice speaks the truth, our truth. It tells us who we are.

~ Henri Nouwen

First Things First

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“The prayer that begins with trustfulness, and passes on into waiting, will always end in thankfulness, triumph, and praise.”

~Alexander MacLaren

There was a time in my life when it seemed I had far more wedding and bridal and baby shower invitations than available babysitters. We all knew that such events included obligatory traditions as well as some pressure to meet expectations for originality. Do it this way, but differently. I began to wish my friends, and then my friends’ children, would just announce elopements and spawning events with photos on Facebook. I preferred emailing a gift card and skipping the whole toilet paper and clothes pin games and the dressing up for awkward speeches and plastic cup toasts thing.

Now I’m older. Funeral announcements have gradually outnumbered wedding and baby shower invitations. I realize I undervalued the opportunity to celebrate beginnings. I wish I had connected with joy more.

There can be joy in the midst of sorrow when we know someone is now in the presence of the Lord, but we can’t deny the existence of sorrow. Call it a “Celebration of Life Party” if you like, but funerals are sad events. Some funerals are sadder than others. Loss is loss, even if it’s the loss of someone who didn’t stir feelings of fondness. Sometimes the saddest loss of all is the loss of opportunity to build a better relationship.

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The undeniable fact about death rituals is that they can permit and perpetuate really bad theology – what we think about God. And since what we think about God is the most important foundation in our lives, funerals and “comforting words” in the reception line have a way of forcing us to realize this is where the rubber meets the road, philosophically.

Group mourning rituals can be very similar to weddings. We still have the do-it-this-way-but-differently pressures when arranging a funeral, but with much less time to prepare, an undefined budget and no RSVP list of attendees. Maybe that’s why many people still feel the need to hire an ordained hatch, match and despatch specialist, even when church attendance occurred less frequently than visits to Santa in the life of the honoree. Some clerics are very good at nurturing and comforting in times of need. Some others? Well, not so much.

One of the saddest remarks I heard at a funeral was from a person officiating who said, “Our hope is that our friend made a good enough impression on God that someday he will be allowed to come back and help clean up the earth.”

My heart ached. But I could not judge. For many years I said I believed in God’s grace, but in practice my actions showed I believed in the necessity of making a good impression on God, so he would have mercy on me and not toss me into the trash heap of discardables on judgement day.

God has given me long time-outs on this journey. I’ve had chances to scrape off performance-based religious burrs collected along the way. I still do keep running into residual ideas still clinging to my own previously unexamined places, but I realize for many people thinking about talking to God is like preparing for a make or break interview. Prayer feels like having to make a good impression on God, so he will act in one’s favour. Sacrificial acts of piety and charity carry what we hope is a suitably subtle label: God, please note. (And a sigh: I hope I’m doing this right!)

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I find myself again idling at a rest stop along the road as I recuperate from surgery this season. I find stuck to myself the remnants of an uncomfortable feeling that I’m not doing enough. I should be writing something deeply profound, or at least organizing my sock drawer. Is rest self-indulgent? What if I fail to impress? Will I will be forgotten?

My heavenly Father heard my questions (before I voiced them) and that’s when Holy Spirit showed up in a new translation of Psalm 139 that attempts to include emotional communication. It’s so rich, a gift of gold light showering down like the autumn leaves.

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I plan to feel and rest my way through meditation on this psalm. How profound is the concept that our Creator knows us down to the cellular level and still loves us? How can we possibly think we can impress (or fool) someone who knows our thoughts before we do, someone who is not bound by our chronological sense of time, and who still persists in trying to communicate his love?

At first, immersing myself in Psalm 139 felt like giving into a tendency to be self-indulgent and self-centered. I was taught that being a Christian means putting Jesus first, others second and yourself last. (We even had an acronym for this approach – “J,O,Y”) The work ethic is strong in my culture; a sense of accomplishment is a highly polished trophy passed reluctantly from one hard worker to another.

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Here, in this psalm, the Holy Spirit tells us that before we did anything, thought anything, or were aware of anything worthy of approval, we were the object of his unceasing kind thoughts and the source of his joy. We see ourselves as having value because he first loved us. We love him because he first loved us. We love others because he first loved us. First things first.

Since we can’t give what we have not filled up on, there are seasons when we need to take time to soak in his love like a baby floating in amniotic fluid. Times of rest are like celebrations of joyful new beginnings without the budget restrictions and societal expectations.

I’m learning to celebrate this time of re-alignment by soaking in these words.

Lord, you know everything there is to know about me.
You’ve examined my innermost being
With your loving gaze.
You perceive every movement of my heart and soul,
And understand my every thought
Before it even enters my mind.
You are so intimately aware of me, Lord,
You read my heart like an open book
And you know all the words I’m about to speak
Before I even start a sentence!

-from Psalm 139, The Passion Translation

There is more of God’s love, always more love, than we dare to think or imagine.