New Life

They’re everywhere, these signs of Spring and life renewed. Flowers adding yellows, purples, and whites to the brown leftovers of last year’s growing season; lengthening days and rising temperatures that encourage us to leave our jackets and mittens on their hooks; chives, oregano, and thyme cut in the yard rather than bought at Shaw’s. It’s time to rake the mulched leaves out of the garden beds, thankful for the protection last year’s growth offered.

I’d like to do the same in the spiritual sense. It’s time to clear my mind, heart, and soul of last year’s growth, not because it wasn’t fruitful but to make room for what’s emerging. It’ll take some work, some time, and trust in God – that’s true of almost everything.

I can’t wait to see what new life will grow this year.

What Will We Do With It?

A few years back, someone I know downed several drinks at a local bar, got into the driver’s seat, and plowed her car into a very large tree. She would have died due to blood loss, but the steering wheel pinned her against the seat so tightly that it acted like a tourniquet. She didn’t walk away from it, but she survived. Against all odds, life had given her a second chance and left her with one simple question: what will you do with it?

Most second chances aren’t that dramatic. They are more in the another chance at work after irresponsible behavior, the opportunity to turn a failing grade into a passing one, forgiveness that keeps alive a relationship category. Dramatic or garden variety, second chances all lead to the same question: what will you do with it?

Easter has come again, our second chance to love God, love neighbor, and love ourselves. With it comes the question: what will we do with it?

We will answer it with how we live the rest of our lives.

Accomplished

So is my word that goes forth from my mouth;* it will not return to me empty;

But it will accomplish that which I have purposed,* and prosper in that for which I sent it.

[The Second Song of Isaiah, BCP pp. 86-87 (Is. 55: 6-11)]

It is Good Friday today, called “good” in the tradition of describing all things powerful and potentially deadly as positive. The act of crucifixion, the death of God on a cross, was not required by God; the idea that God’s anger or holiness required the blood of an innocent man to pay the price for the evil of others feels more like a way of avoiding the truth: humanity put Jesus on the cross.

From God’s side, crucifixion wasn’t a requirement. But God works with this broken world and its fearful people, bringing holiness and forgiveness out of even the worst acts. Since humans chose the cross as a response to God With Us, God hallowed even that.

Good Friday is good because God accomplished what was intended in incarnation. As it was, so it is, and always shall be. Even when the means could have been other that what humanity chose.

Conservation of Spiritual Matter

So is my word that goes forth from my mouth;* it will not return to me empty;

But it will accomplish that which I have purposed,* and prosper in that for which I sent it.

[Canticle 10: The Second Song of Isaiah, Isaiah 55:6-11, BCP pp. 86-87]

It’s one of the basics of science: the law of the conservation of energy. The gist is that energy cannot be created or destroyed – it can only change from one form to another. Of course, this is assuming that we take a really long view, taking into account the entire cosmos when we apply this principle. Nothing in God’s creation can be lost, but things can change form – energy to matter, matter back to energy.

This law has been put to the test countless times by creating an enclosed system that can be monitored and measured – biospheres, bell jar ecosystems, etc. Nothing lost, nothing gained in such a system. But what about this life we live outside such controlled experiments?

The word of God doesn’t dissipate, and it doesn’t fail. Perhaps it changes form, adapting to the realities that we create in ways that foster love and compassion. Ignored in one manifestation, perhaps it assumes another – one that we can understand and accept. Perhaps the word of God will keep manifesting in new ways, constantly seeking us out, patiently offering us a part in bringing about the transformation of all that is into the holy reality it is meant to be.

All we have to do is keep an eye out for it, and love accordingly.

Life and Growth

For as the rain and snow fall from the heavens* and return not again, but water the earth,

Bringing forth life and giving growth,* seed for sowing and bread for eating,

So is my word that goes forth from my mouth;* it will not return to me empty;

But it will accomplish that for which I have purposed,* and prosper in that for which I sent it.

Canticle 10: The Second Song of Isaiah (Is.55:6-11), BCP, pp. 86-87

The chives are emerging – green shoots finding their way through last year’s leafy mulch. Onions have been sending up shoots for weeks now, even though I haven’t planted anything this year. Hollyhocks, daffodils, and crocuses are up, too: the every day miracle of perennial and reseeded growth. In another few weeks, it will be tomato, potato, and pumpkin plants – bounty and life  begun from the composted remnants of last year’s crops. All this life, and I haven’t begun to plan or plant this year’s garden yet.

Nature doesn’t seem to waste much; she calls life from the left over, the discarded, and the sowing done decades ago. It is a joy to behold, and a privilege to have a hand in any of it. My investment of time, energy, and a negligible amount of money continue to pay handsomely in beauty and food.

Bringing forth life and giving growth – the Spirit doesn’t seem to waste much, either. Surely She can bring forth life and give growth from even my leftover, discarded, and half-hearted offerings.

Seasonal

For as rain and snow fall from the heavens* and return not again, but water the earth…

The Water Cycle is one of the first of nature’s systems that I learned. In second or third grade, it was a simple clouds draw water from the ocean and then it becomes rain, waters the trees, then returns to the ocean as river water. As I grew older, more details were added – water tables, seasonal and geographical variants, and the damage that could be done to the whole thing. Drought, acid rain, floods, soil erosion, and pollution became the dark side of the cycle, and the Clean Water Act a sign of hope and wisdom.

The importance of water is obvious: nothing can live without it. There’s a beauty to water changing form: liquid, solid, gas. It’s in the ability to transform that water provides life, and then renews itself. Such a miraculous substance, such a necessity for life to emerge. It’s a privilege to be part of the life that water sustains, and it’s a responsibility: leave it intact for the life that is to come.

Perhaps it’s the same with God’s sustaining and creative word. It is constant and constantly able to be what is necessary for life and for its own renewal. No part of its presence is unnecessary or unimportant, whether it’s in a form I can see or not. If so, then the same thing applies: recognize the privilege and respond accordingly. Leave the fruits of God’s word for the life that is to come.

Heavens above, Earth below

Seek the Lord while he wills to be found;* call upon him when he draws near.

Let the wicked forsake their ways* and the evil ones their thoughts;

and let them turn to the Lord, and he will have compassion,* and to our God, for he will richly pardon.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,* nor your ways my ways, says the Lord.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth,* so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. 

For as rain and snow fall from the heavens* and return not again, but water the earth, bringing forth life and giving growth,* seed for sowing and bread for eating,

So is my word that goes forth from my mouth;* it will not return to me empty;

But it will accomplish that which I have purposed,* and prosper in that for which I sent it.

The Second Song of Isaiah (Is. 55:6-11), pp. 86-87, BCP

On one side of Blueberry Hill, just a hike away from Merrymeeting Lake, you’ll find Chalk Pond. It’s spring fed, and the breezes ruffle its surface almost constantly throughout the day. It’s not surprising to see white caps in the Spring and Fall, or for Winter winds to wipe its icy surface clean of snow. Summer sunshine makes a diamond of it, throwing light everywhere.

But evening brings a change. The winds die down and the sun’s rays cannot obscure its surface in a dazzle of light. As the stars appear in the sky, they appear on the dark mirror surface of Chalk Pond. What is above is so clearly captured below that one becomes indistinguishable from the other. Heavens above, heavens below – and the grace of seeing both hundreds and hundreds of times.

If I can be still in my soul, if I can let go of all that ruffles and disturbs, might I reflect in my own small life the infinite wonder of God’s grace?

Nor (or, life isn’t a spectator sport)

The differences don’t end with what goes on in our inner landscapes: the differences continue in our actions, habits, efforts – how our inner worlds manifest themselves in this outer one we share.  Our ways of being and doing are as far from God’s as our thoughts are – maybe even farther.

Knowing what is needed to love God, self, and neighbor – which isn’t easy – is not the same as loving God, self, and neighbor in tangible ways. It takes effort, patience, and true sacrifice to turn what exists only in possibility into an actuality. And once that effort is made, there’s no guarantee that we will see the fruit of our labors. There’s also no guarantee that we will be recognized, thanked or rewarded for any of it.

So why not leave our ideas and ideals in the realm of potentiality? Why make the attempt to follow the Spirit? There’s only one reason I can think of: the cost of not making the attempt is a life only half lived – a spectator sport bereft of tangible joy. Isn’t living the life God gives us, taking up our own crosses, the only true way to live?

God’s ways, Christ’s way, may not be our ways. But we can offer our fragile and fallible ways, trusting that the Spirit just might be willing to turn them to God’s purpose, and that they will lead us to resurrection.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,*

Nor your ways my ways, says the Lord.

[For more on this series, and the whole canticle, click Lent 2021 above.]

Think, Think, Think

Seek the Lord while he wills to be found;*

call upon him when he draws near.

Let the wicked forsake their ways*

and the evil ones their thoughts;

And let them turn to the Lord, and he will have compassion,*

and turn to our God, for he will richly pardon.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,*

nor your ways my ways, says the Lord.

One of the most wonderful and frustrating things about the people I love is that they don’t all or always approach life’s joys, sorrows, and all the things in between on the same cognitive footpath I do. While this isn’t surprising when there are disagreements, it’s equally true when there is agreement.

My husband, sons, siblings, and friends have their own pathways, leading to their own conclusions. Sometimes, these mental paths cross with mine; sometimes they don’t. When we share how we arrived at a particular opinion or conclusion, I catch a glimpse of mental landscapes wholly different from my own.

These glimpses remind me of how very limited my own mental meanderings are – even when they lead to good and fruitful places. There are other ways to come to the same place, and there are other places that I cannot reach from my own paths – the equivalent of you can’t get there from here.

Given the variety of paths and the variety of the places such paths lead, it would be silly of me to assume that how and what I know provide the standard for all of humanity’s hows and whats. That goes at least double for the thoughts of God, who created all of us and everything else to boot.

If I remember this, and if I repeat this truth enough, perhaps it will sink in…

For your thoughts are not my thoughts.

[photos by Jared Fredrickson. For more on this series, click Lent 2021 above.]

 

 

And…

Let the wicked forsake their ways,* and the evil ones their thoughts;

And let them turn to the Lord, and he will have compassion,*

and to our God, for he will richly pardon.

[The Second Song of Isaiah (Is. 55:6-11), BCP, pp. 86-87]

I am a prodigal daughter, standing in a sty, surrounded by pigs. This is the fork in the road. Do I perish here, soul and maybe even body? Do I walk the long road home, back to a mother and father who love me?

I’m not sure what I’m more afraid of – this barren wasteland that is my soul, or the life-giving home that will rescue me from this self-chosen living death.

If I go back, one thing I know: all bets are off. I’ll never be able to turn a prodigal away. All will be welcome. All who seek it will be restored.

[For the whole canticle, click Lent 2021 above.]

 Photo by Jared Fredrickson