Ultimately

“While the earth remains,

Seedtime and harvest,

Cold and heat,

Winter and summer,

And day and night

Shall not cease.”

Genesis 8:22

A hundred-year old record was broken here this week. A record for cold. The leaves, many of which are still green, froze solid on the trees. A bird, seeking warmth, flew into the house via the chimney. My husband’s search for warm gloves turned up eight meant for the left hand and one for the right. It looked like the right failed match any of the lefts.

We weren’t ready for this.

Many miles away this same cold front is dropping snow on massive wildfires that surround a city. A friend posted photos today of steaming earth where threatening flames roared the day before. She joyfully expressed thankfulness.

Sometimes it’s hard to understand what on earth is going on. While I mourn the death of the last of my pretty little flowers, I rejoice with my friend for answered prayer and preservation of something much bigger.

Today this passage in Genesis showed up where I was not expecting to see it. I appreciate the reminder. While we need to change our exploitive ways and take responsibility for tending the earth and its resources well, ultimately God is the one who created its intricate workings. He is the one who holds it all together. He’s got this.

Fully Where I Am

“When I trust deeply that today God is truly with me and holds me safe in a divine embrace, guiding every one of my steps I can let go of my anxious need to know how tomorrow will look, or what will happen next month or next year. I can be fully where I am and pay attention to the many signs of God’s love within me and around me.”

– Henri Nouwen

The smoke has cleared and I was feeling well enough to get out of the house and drive to one of my favourite quiet places, little Munroe Lake. This area suffered the ravages of wildfire a few years ago. I enjoy the contrast between old growth on one side of the lake and new growth on the other.

Circumstances in my life require letting go of things I used to be able to do without much planning or thought. Mourning is involved any time we let go of the old to make room for the new, but we can’t get a grasp on the future when our hands are desperately hanging on to strands of the past.

This new terrain is giving me a greater appreciation for stillness. It is reinforcing the importance of something the Lord has been teaching me for many years: trust.

How will things look in the next few months or years? I don’t know, but the words of an old song by Ira Stanphill play in my heart:

Many things about tomorrow
I don’t seem to understand
But I know who holds tomorrow
And I know who holds my hand.

I Do Declare!

As for me, I will always have hope;
    I will praise you more and more.

My mouth will tell of your righteous deeds,
    of your saving acts all day long—
    though I know not how to relate them all.


 I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, Sovereign Lord;
    I will proclaim your righteous deeds, yours alone.

Since my youth, God, you have taught me,
    and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.
 

Even when I am old and gray,
    do not forsake me, my God,
till I declare your power to the next generation,
    your mighty acts to all who are to come.

(Psalm 71:14-18 NIV)

Above the Fray

This morning I heard two gentlemen on a park bench. It was hard not to hear them. They were conversing with the volume of the newly hard of hearing.

“You know, I have never paid much attention to American politics, but now it’s my whole damn life!” said one.

I’m not one to stick my head in the sand. I watch and listen and keep up with current events outside my own country. I try to treat people with different opinions with honour, even when I am becoming increasingly aware that some people hate me simply for my beliefs.

I do understand the man on the bench though. It reminds me of the old westerns where everyone in the saloon is keenly aware of tension rising at the poker table. Stakes are high and bystanders are quietly checking the exits and looking for cover.

Sometimes it feels overwhelming and sometimes it’s hard not to be dragged into the prevailing atmosphere of fear, anger, confusion, disappointment, and division. Then I remember my focus needs to be on my good, good heavenly Father who knows the whole truth. In him I am secure.

For no matter where I am, even when I’m far from home,
I will cry out to you for a father’s help.
When I’m feeble and overwhelmed by life,
guide me into your glory, where I am safe and sheltered.

 Lord, you are a paradise of protection to me.
You lift me high above the fray.
None of my foes can touch me
when I’m held firmly in your wrap-around presence!

(Psalm 61: 2,3 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

wind in the willow painting

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.”

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.

 

 

That Other Time the World Was Inconvenienced

bethlehem queue ch

It must have seemed like the whole world had been inconvenienced – everyone except the leaders and bureaucrats who ordered the chaotic mess. What were they thinking?

What ordinary citizen could afford to walk away from a shop or farm or business and travel for days, simply to register for the privilege of paying more taxes? With the town’s resources stretched and tired traveler’s incomes pinched, tempers flared. They usually do when people feel out of control.

Only two people could afford to appreciate the unprecedented circumstances. Eventually a few more outsiders on the bottom rung of the social ladder understood,  and later some inquisitive foreigners showed up, but most people had no idea the world was about to change. They dragged themselves into the next day not knowing they had just entered a new era.

Seven years ago, I stood in crowd of hot, tired people from every place except the town we were in. We all waited for a chance to squeeze into a ridiculously small room with a metallic star around a hole in the floor. This place, the tourist machine told us, was the birthplace of the Christ.

Our guide had his doubts. He made a quip that locations of famous events in Israel were more likely to be determined by the availability of parking for tourist busses than archeological evidence. He favoured an empty field north of the edifice. Nevertheless, on tired legs and aching feet hundreds of us shuffled forward on a worn stone floor as the cacophony of many languages surrounded us.

Today, looking at photos, I remember the crowds in Bethlehem. It was the Sabbath. Christian sites were open on the Sabbath, so it seemed like a good day to go. Bethlehem no more lay in peaceful stillness that day than I suspect it did on the day Joseph and Mary arrived for the census ordered by Caesar Augustus.

We passed armed soldiers at check points beside high walls and rolls of razor wire. Later in the day, loud fighter jets passed overhead while we wandered around ruins on the outskirts of town. A man in our group, who was a native Israeli raised on a kibbutz, became very serious and immediately took out his cellphone.

“This is not good,” he said as he waited for someone to answer. “The Israeli air force never flies exercises on the Sabbath. They’re on a mission.”

We felt the tension in the air. When we returned to our hotel, we learned the planes had attacked a convoy of trucks in Lebanon. With only partial information available speculation and rumour filled in the blanks.

I don’t think I’ve had a discussion with anyone in the past month, on an online group call, or by text, or yelling across the fence, that hasn’t begun with observations of these strange times and unprecedented circumstances we find ourselves in. As the repercussions of a halted economy begin to sink in, and voices express more irritation with inconveniences, speculation and rumours fly.

The lull in the daily-ness of life in the past six weeks provided me with time for reflection. I see a young Jewish couple in my mind’s eye.

The woman is very pregnant. They have walked for days. Her back aches and she needs to pee again. The baby’s head is engaged and intermittent cramps make her stop and lean on the man while she waits them out. Yet she and her husband smile at each other and exchange knowing glances. They know what this means.

The God who sent an angel to bring both of them into his plan played the politicians and experts who thought they were in charge. He inconvenienced the whole country to arrange to get them here in this place at this time. Without fanfare, an ancient prophecy is about to be fulfilled. In the midst of enormous upset, strain, and confusion, the world was changing forever.

On this night, at the perfect moment, predetermined from the beginning of time, the Messiah arrived. God with us. The crowds queueing in the streets, worried about finding accommodation and having enough shekels to pay for everything, had no idea they were entering a new era.

The fullness of time arrived.

Nothing would ever be the same.

Joseph and Mary knew. God graced them with his favour – not with a life of painless ease, not with social approval, not with wealth, but with inclusion in his plan. He shared the secret of the ages with them.

They knew.

God smiled and the angels rejoiced.

Into the Hidden Places

painting appointment 4 ch rs DSC_0608

I watched two people play statistics wars. Both debaters adamantly claimed ownership of diagrams and charts that backed their positions. Now I’m not a scientist, but I live with one. I’ve been around academics long enough to recognize poor research protocols and an apples and oranges argument. I’ve also learned it’s pointless to say anything to people who have their minds made up, academics included.

I walked away to make coffee when a line from Simon and Garfunkle’s song, The Boxer, began to play in my head.

All lies and jests, still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.

When my coffee was ready, before I even started my Bible reading for today, I remembered this verse from my childhood:

You desire truth in the inward parts.

The Passion translation phrases it this way:

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. (Psalm 51:6)

Deceit is deceiving. No one believes a lie or jest intentionally, but very few ask to have falsehoods they believe publicly exposed. Gullibility feels like a character flaw, like a failure to fact check with the right fact checkers backed by the right authorities. With playground taunts still ringing in their ears many people will double down before admitting error.

Sometimes we absorb untruths because we need them to fit into a construct that allows us to feel less insecure. Sometimes we believe lies simply because we trusted the wrong people. Is that not the theme of millions of stories since the Garden of Eden?

Still thinking about the song (and about them and the lies they believed) and how that fit in with the verse about truth, the Lord arrested me with, “Let’s talk about some truths I’d like to set in your heart. There are some things that need displacing.”

He’s kind like that. He doesn’t talk about my stupidity for believing a falsehood, he talks about a truth that is lacking, a gap in my understanding temporarily filled in by something else. Cooperating with the process is called transformation.

Earlier this week, while I listened to some uplifting worship and encouraging speakers, I tried to paint my feelings about this time of isolation I find myself in.  It feels like the Lover of my soul is asking me to come away with him and simply sit quietly in this prepared time and appointed place. I do believe we are stepping into a new era and this long pause is a gift to reflect on embarrassingly wonky values and  ideas I’ve accepted that need to be replaced with truths before we journey on.

A little defensively I ask, “Who can I trust anyway? What is the truth?”

“Me,” he says. “In answer to both questions. Let’s start with how much I love you — and how much I love them — because you don’t really believe me yet.”

 

 

 

 

Fly!

boy running bw ch DSC_0324

Love, it seems, made flying dreams so hearts could soar…

-Jerry Goldsmith & Paul Williams

Children are often the best teachers. I watched this boy running and leaping on newly exposed grass on a south-facing hill where the sun melted winter’s snow. He spread his arms like wings and flew down that hill as only the young can.

As I edited photos this morning, a line from the song, Flying Dreams, came to mind.

This was the day churches and theaters were told to limit gatherings to fifty people or less because of the threat of contagion. We did not yet know that within a few days we would be isolated in our house unable to see or hug our children and grandchildren, but we knew the situation was serious.

The photo I took that day reminds me of the innocent, trusting nature of children. They played without fear while their parents made plans to teach, nurture, and protect them during this time when fear wraps the world in its ugly grip. Children simply trust and obey the ones who care for them. That’s their job.

To be humble is to remember to trust in the One who loves us perfectly and not place other sources in positions of authority over him. (Don’t hear what I’m not saying. God gives people intelligence, skills, and wisdom for a reason.) Repeatedly, the Bible tells us that God has a special place in his heart for the humble. His love raises them up so their hearts can soar over any circumstance.

Then Jesus, overflowing with the Holy Spirit’s anointing of joy, exclaimed, “Father, thank you, for you are Lord Supreme over heaven and earth! You have hidden the great revelation of this authority from those who are proud, those wise in their own eyes, and you have shared it with these who humbled themselves. Yes, Father. This is what pleases your heart and the very way you’ve chosen to extend your kingdom: to give to those who become like trusting children. (Luke 10:21 TPT)