The Comfort of Your Love

Lord, even when your path takes me through the valley of deepest darkness, fear will never conquer me, for you already have!

You remain close to me and lead me through it all the way.

Your authority is my strength and my peace.

The comfort of your love takes away my fear.”

(Psalm 23:4 The Passion Translation)

One of the greatest pains in life is to be rejected, shunned, ignored — cancelled. The desire to belong can be so great that sometimes people will defy their own conscience to maintain connection.

When my mother decided to follow the path that led to a closer relationship to Christ, the consequences were harsh. Her family accused her of dishonouring them. They treated her as though she were dead. It took tremendous courage to risk offending people she loved, but Jesus was calling her and she chose to listen to his voice. Years later, one at a time, most family members reached out to her again, but at first she walked the deep sorrowful path of rejection choosing to believe God’s promises led to greater hope.

When Mom was old and close to dying, she told me that knowing that Jesus would never leave was the greatest comfort in her life. She had found his promises to be true. His love was accepting and unwavering. While the people she loved most turned their backs, He never did. The comfort of his love took away all fear of walking through dark places. She was not alone.

With One Voice

I lost the tag that told me the name of this little rose bush. It blooms just as happily without it. I’m fascinated by flowers of different colours springing from the same root. It brings me joy.

Unity is not uniformity, but neither is unity a random occurrence, without anything in common. I have known groups formed around the concept of unity that were so accepting of almost any idea they no longer have anything in common. That’s not true unity any more than response to a man-made rule that forces everyone to dress the same and act the same is true unity.

Unity in the spirit is about receiving from and responding to the same source, the way these lovely roses receive nutrients from the same root and yet each bloom expresses itself in a different way.

Unity is more than having faith in whatever. Unity is having faith that is connected to the One who is faithful. True unity is about being and rooted and grounded in the Creator’s love.

“Now may God, the source of great endurance and comfort, grace you with unity among yourselves, which flows from your relationship with Jesus, the Anointed One. Then, with a unanimous rush of passion, you will with one voice glorify God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

(Romans 15:5,6 TPT)

Secreted

I like to keep up with current events. I’d like to say it’s so I can pray, but perhaps a lot of motivation for reading and watching media comes from a strong dislike for nasty suprises and a need to be prepared. But sometimes it’s too much – the anger, the accusations, the division, the manipulation. I feel myself being sucked into mob mentality that makes perpetrators out of victims and bystanders.

Then I realize that with freedom comes responsibility. I am responsible for paying attention to the condition of my heart. I need to get away from news and opinions and seek God in the quiet place where voices speaking from limited understanding (including mine) are hushed.

This morning I woke up feeling like I had been in a battle all night. In spite of the restlessness in my soul, the song playing in my heart was a verse from Francis Havergal’s Like a River Glorious:

Hidden in the hollow of His blessed hand,
Never foe can follow, never traitor stand;
Not a surge of worry, not a shade of care,
Not a blast of hurry touch the spirit there.

Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blest
Finding, as He promised, perfect peace and rest.

I sat down at the computer and read the scripture suggested for today in The Book of Common Prayer. This verse stood out to me.

In his shelter in the day of trouble, that’s where you’ll find me,
for he hides me there in his holiness.
He has smuggled me into his secret place,
where I’m kept safe and secure—
out of reach from all my enemies.
Triumphant now, I’ll bring him my offerings of praise…

(Psalm 27:5,6 TPT)

Under the shade of the mountain ash tree in my garden, I notice how fragrant lilies of the valley secret themselves among dark sheltering leaves. They are not worried.

Thank you, Lord. I hear you.

Breathe On Me

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I did something stupid last night. I was so hungry I ate something that I knew might be risky for someone with my health challenges.

In the middle of the night I woke up feeling short of breath. Of course, with all the warnings going around, I immediately feared I had suddenly come down with covid19. Then I remembered eating a bowl of gluten-free cereal. My body protested. It doesn’t like any grains. So much for sleep.

“I can’t breathe,” I panicked.

As I sat on the edge of the bed and consciously practised the deep breathing methods I taught my singing students for so many years, I remembered how often I have heard this phrase recently. I can’t breathe. “I can’t breathe” is the cry of people critically ill with the virus that has filled so many with fear. It’s the cry at many demonstrations protesting racism. I’ve seen it on shirts, heard it in chants, and listened to people who tell me they feel so stifled, restricted, constricted, and encroached upon by current circumstances it feels like they can’t breathe.

Then there were memories of that traumatic Good Friday our son-in-law was not expected to live. He had sepsis and was on a respirator. He was hemorrhaging into his lungs.

“He can’t breathe on his own,” the doctor said. “We want to send him to a bigger hospital but he’s on 100% oxygen now and they won’t take him on a medivac flight.”

I don’t think a person can be in a more dependent position than to need a machine operated by a respiratory technician to breathe for them. Thousands joined to pray for him and God responded with a miracle. On Pentecost Sunday he walked into a gathering of some of those praying people with perfectly healthy lungs — and all his limbs intact.

In Hebrew, the Holy Spirit is called Ruach HaKodesh. Ruach means breath or wind. Kodesh means holy. It’s the breath of God that made humans come alive. Jesus breathed on his disciples when he imparted the Holy Spirit to them and when the Holy Spirit came in power to the 120 people gathered in an upper room, he entered as a mighty wind.

“I can’t breathe,” I prayed in the dark. “I’ve lost my breath. I need you, Lord. Breathe on me.”

Eventually peace entered the room and I began to breathe normally.

This morning, a song by Marty Goetz played in my head. It’s a prayer for the holy Breath and Spirit Wind of God to come in power and fan the flame that once burned more brightly.

I don’t think I am the only one in the strange circumstances facing us these days to feel that now is a time to acknowledge our need for help and to humbly acknowledge our dependence on Ruach HaKodesh to be our breath. This is also my prayer.

Blow, Spirit, blow. Come and fill this weary soul. In your mercy send a holy wind. Until you do, I’ll wait for you to breathe on me.”

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.

Fully Loaded: Love Is a Weapon

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This morning a friend posted a question: How would your life change if you lived fully loved?

That’s not what I saw, at least the first couple of times I read it. What I saw was this: How would your life change if you lived fully loaded?

She not the kind to promote violence, so I rubbed my eyes and read it again. I realized the way I saw her question at first was actually the answer to her question.

Love is a weapon. Love takes down fear, hate, disappointment, division and hopelessness. Love heals the wounds that wound. Christ came to restore our hearts and relationship with our heavenly Father, the source of all love.

Today is Pentecost Sunday, the day we remember that the church began with a group of people meeting in one accord in one place when the Holy Spirit came upon them in power. They were, in a sense, fully loaded by the One who loves perfectly. They went out and changed the world.

How would life change if we, together in one accord, lived fully loaded on love?

God’s love would be seen in demonstrations — demonstrations of power, first in this place, and then in the whole world.

Come, Holy Spirit.

 

Precedented: How to Be a Rebuilder

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The situation we find ourselves is not new. I learned recently that my ancestors came from the small town in Europe where the first peasant uprising in the 16th century led to riots, death, and destruction. Systemic injustice builds until something breaks. History teaches us the dangers of looking the other way.

God doesn’t look the other way. In plain and blunt words, he told the people, through the prophet Isaiah, their show of religion that made no difference in their treatment of each other disgusted him.

We would do well to pay attention. From the Voice translation, an extract from Isaiah 58:

Eternal One: They pretend to want to learn what I teach,
As if they are indeed a nation good and true,
as if they hadn’t really turned their backs on My directives.
They even ask Me, as though they care,
about what I want them to be and do, as if they really want Me in their lives.

People: Why didn’t You notice how diligently we fasted before You?
We humbled ourselves with pious practices and You paid no attention.
Eternal One: I have to tell you, on those fasting days,
all you were really seeking was your own pleasure;
Besides you were busy defrauding people and abusing your workers.

Your kind of fasting is pointless, for it only leads to bitter quarrels,
contentious backbiting, and vicious fighting.
You are not fasting today because you want Me to hear your voice.

What kind of a fast do I choose? Is a true fast simply
some religious exercise for making a person feel miserable and woeful?
Is it about how you bow your head (like a bent reed), how you dress (in sackcloth), and where you sit (in a bed of ashes)?
Is this what you call a fast, a day the Eternal One finds good and proper?

No, what I want in a fast is this:
to liberate those tied down and held back by injustice,
to lighten the load of those heavily burdened,
to free the oppressed and shatter every type of oppression.

A fast for Me involves sharing your food with people who have none,
giving those who are homeless a space in your home,
Giving clothes to those who need them, and not neglecting your own family.

Then, oh then, your light will break out like the warm, golden rays of a rising sun;
in an instant, you will be healed.
Your rightness will precede and protect you;
the glory of the Eternal will follow and defend you.

Then when you do call out, “My God, Where are You?”
The Eternal One will answer, “I am here, I am here.”
If you remove the yoke of oppression from the downtrodden among you,
stop accusing others, and do away with mean and inflammatory speech,

If you make sure that the hungry and oppressed have all that they need,
then your light will shine in the darkness,
And even your bleakest moments will be bright as a clear day.

The Eternal One will never leave you;
He will lead you in the way that you should go.
When you feel dried up and worthless,
God will nourish you and give you strength.
And you will grow like a garden lovingly tended;
you will be like a spring whose water never runs out.

You will discover there are people among your own
who can rebuild this broken-down city out of the ancient ruins;
You will firm up its ancient foundations.
And all around, others will call you
“Repairer of Broken Down Walls” and “Rebuilder of Livable Streets.”

(Isaiah 58:2-12 The Voice)

Leave No Unguarded Place

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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

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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.

Sketchbook, circa 1971

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“I’m not having a porch prom!” my granddaughter protested when she learned her high school graduation celebration had been cancelled.

She had a porch prom. We attended by Zoom. Her grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins praised her dress, her taste, her beauty, her intellect, her perseverance, and her attitude. Except for taking screen shots and cell phone shots of the computer screen, and the absence of any escort, friends, or fellow graduates, it was like the evening of her father’s graduation. We praised him, celebrated him, and took photos of him on the porch too. Then we waved as he left to pick up his date for the prom.

But her grad ended on the porch. No ceremony. No sitting in the sun in a stiflingly hot gown while some minor dignitary issued platitudes about adult life on a glitchy sound system. No diploma in hand, no hat in the air. No discovery that friends in expensive formal attire are still the same imperfect people they were all year.

I sympathized with her disappointment as I dealt with my own. We were unable to travel to see a very precious person cross the stage. I remembered my grad. I sang a solo at the ceremonies, but I wasn’t allowed to attend the prom. My parents forbid me to go to a dance. That was disappointing.

I dealt with more disappointment this week when a faucet burst and water poured out, unobserved for too long. My back was killing me by the time I moved the last crate in the storage room to higher ground. It looked then like I would have to toss out the empty frames and old sketch books it contained. It looks now like the frames can be salvaged, but not the sketch books. They were old anyway.

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I turned the wet margined pages of a sketchbook/journal I used when I was a teenager about the age my granddaughter is now. It felt like an archeological uncovering of my own history nearly half a century ago. I took photos of some of the less damaged yellowed pages. These quick cartoons were observations from my teenage point of view.

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1971 was a year of shift too, particularly in ideas of what it meant to be a woman, which, of necessity, included adjustments in the ideas of what it meant to be a man. I was, in equal parts, angry, enthused, confused, determined, and concerned.

In 1971, sexual harassment was called “Boys will be boys.” (that story for another day) I received one third less pay for the same summer job boys working beside me took home. One of my brilliant female classmates with a 98% average failed to get into pre-med in university. She was told, apparently without shame, that since she would probably drop out of medical practice when she had children, the spots were reserved for those most likely to benefit society. Another classmate, male, who I knew was not particularly brilliant since I helped him with math, was accepted. His father was a Member of Parliament.

In 1971, my pastor suggested I go to seminary, not to study and become a pastor, but to meet a pastor because he thought I’d make a good pastor’s wife. I looked at the lives of pastor’s wives I knew — and ran the other way.

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In 1971, many women wanted to be able to choose to have a fulfilling job where they would receive recognition in the form of a pay cheque. Now, many women happily pursue careers that fit their talents and interests, but the other side of the story is that many women feel they have no choice but to show up for less-than-fulfilling jobs to meet expenses. Not all, certainly, but some women long for the seemingly unattainable luxury of nurturing and teaching their own children at home themselves. I suspected in 1971, and finally knew in 1986, after leaving a sick child behind to fulfill a contract for rehearsals and concerts, that I was one of those.

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When I was growing up, my mother had a job. I had a house key. I wanted both and I wanted neither. As a teen, I didn’t know what it meant to be a woman, and I often resented what I saw, but it never occurred to me that I could choose not to be a woman as some of my granddaughter’s friends have done. I never foresaw that foundation crumbling.

So I tell my granddaughter not to let these circumstances break her stride. She is an exceptional person with impressive insight in spite of  “unprecedented” times. I wonder how she will see her journal in half a century?

In the meantime, here are some pages from mine.

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