The Favorite Child

I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. (Isaiah 55:3b, NRSV)

In William P. Young’s The Shack, whenever God mentions someone, she says she is especially fond of him or her. Every single person, every child, is a favorite. No one is half-loved or a quarter-appreciated in comparison to someone else. Every single person resides in the heart of God, a beloved child.

In a world where competition and favoritism exclude the majority to the dubious advantage of the few, this makes no sense. How can there not be the favorite? But God doesn’t choose favorites: everyone is a favorite, beloved for whom he or she is.

The shepherd-musician-king, David, is God’s beloved; God surrounded David with love and chose him for a holy life. The very same is true of you and me – and everyone else in this world. God is especially fond of you. You are a delight in the eyes of the Lord:don’t let anyone or anything convince you otherwise.

[Young, William P., The Shack, USA: Windblown Media, 2007]

Attend

Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live.  

(Isaiah 55:3a, NRSV)

One of my graduate school super powers was being able to block out the noise and activity around me. I could write while someone else watched television and read in a noisy, crowded cafeteria. Traffic noise, neighbors arguing, popcorn popping – none of it could break my focus on the academic task at hand. That skill served me well in those years, but it should have come with this warning:

Do not mistake this work skill for a life skill! Taken out of its proper context, it causes more harm than good.

Efficiency in a task at the expense of awareness of those around me isn’t a virtue if the task is trivial. Conversation around the dinner table, listening to my husband and sons talk about their ideas and daily adventures – these shouldn’t be tuned out in favor of doing a Sunday crossword puzzle every Sunday afternoon. There’s a time to focus on a single task, and a time put it away to engage in the world around me.

I think that’s what Isaiah is saying: attend to what is important and life-giving. Listen, don’t just hear the voices of others as background noise. And if this is true about the people around us, isn’t it also true of God?

An abundant, godly life requires active listening to God’s call, the self’s disclosure, and the deepest longings of neighbor. If I incline my ear to these, if I seek God, only then will I truly live my life.

[For the full text, click “Isaiah 55” above.]

Rich Fare

Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. [Isaiah 55:2b, NRSV]

I didn’t have the time or inclination to make my usual oven fries to go with dinner, so I picked up a bag of sour cream and onion chips. I hadn’t tried the brand or the flavor, so this was a game of potato chip roulette. I lost. The chips were thin and the seasoning not quite right, although I couldn’t say exactly why.

The logical conclusion to this tale is something like after a couple of chips, I gave it up and swapped in my favorite rice crackers and some slices of sharp cheddar. The true outcome was unsatisfied with the chips, I ate twice as many as I usually do. Why would I continue to eat chips that I knew wouldn’t satisfy me, as if a larger quantity of substandard chips would miraculously gain in quality if I just kept eating?

Good food satisfies, bad food doesn’t. A small amount of rich food is plenty, but no amount of junk food is ever enough. Enough of the good stuff isn’t just as good as a feast of empty calories: it’s delightfully, immeasurably better.

If I lived out this truth at every meal, I’d be healthier for it. If I did the same with all aspects of my life, not just the food on my plate, I’d know that what I’ve been given (and what I haven’t) is more than enough.

Bon Appetit!

 

Why?

 

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? [Isaiah 55]

How much of my money do I spend on things that do not nourish me, or anyone else for that matter? Bread in the literal sense, and in the necessities-of-life figurative sense, is anything that is required to support a healthy and holy life. Those things that sustain body, heart, mind, and soul are bread. A quick review of recent receipts and my finances overall confirms what I don’t like  to admit: I spend quite a bit of money on things that subtract from my life more than they add to it.

How much of my time, talent, and effort do I give over to attaining or experiencing things that do not and cannot satisfy me or anyone else? It’s not just money I’ve spent on things that lessen my life and the life of the world: the time I’ve devoted to meaningless things can’t be retrieved. The energy I’ve given to feeding anger or resentment isn’t recyclable. I’m kidding myself if I think having one more possession or obsession beyond the food/clothing/shelter basics is going to satisfy my longing for a good and holy life.

The bad news: I can’t earn or buy a good and holy life by spending my limited time and money on additional and unnecessary things.

The good news: I don’t need to buy with my money and life’s time a good and holy life. God grants that gift freely.  Once I accept this as the gospel truth, I can devote my inner and outer resources to the bread that feeds this beloved world.

[For more on this series, click Isaiah 55 above.]

 

Come! Everyone’s invited!

“Ho everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come buy wine and milk without money and without price.  Isaiah 55, NRSV

Wareham as a town does a lot of things poorly. But Wareham gets one life-changing thing right: lunch.

When school children line up to pay for their lunches, they punch in a number and take their food. Buying lunch is the same for full price, reduced price, and free lunch. There’s no way to tell who has the means to pay and who doesn’t: the same milk and the same meals are bought by everyone. The same is true for the summer meals program: anyone can take a free lunch at any of the sites. No names are required or requested, and extra meals are offered without regard to how much or little money they have.

For the past four summers, I’ve had the great honor of seeing this practice in action at the local library. I’ve seen strangers share a meal and a picnic table, forming friendships that wouldn’t have happened any other way. But I’m not just witnessing kindness or a social program success: I’m being given a glimpse of God’s kingdom. In my home town, on an ordinary day at the public library, God’s purpose is fulfilled. Without money and without price.

Thanks be to God! Amen.

Invitation to Isaiah 55

It’s harvest time around here – the last fruits of summer and the ongoing bounty of early Autumn can be found at the local farmers’ markets: apples, squash, tomatoes, peppers, and pumpkins. What better time to delve into Isaiah’s invitation to live an abundant life than now, from beginning of Fall to Thanksgiving? I hope you will join me, singing this ancient song to the Lord…

“Ho everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come buy wine and milk without money and without price. 

“Why do you spend  your  money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,and delight yourselves in rich food.

“Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.

“See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.

“Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are 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 the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes from my mouth; it shall not return empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

“For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

“Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”

Isaiah 55, NRSV

Absolute Color

A week before Easter nineteen years ago, a package came for me. My mother-in-law had sent a set of floral placemats and napkins, with this note:

I saw these in a shop downtown and thought they would look lovely with your violet tablecloth. Happy Easter. Love, Carol

She was right. There was a bit of violet in the fabric that was an exact match for my tablecloth. How she knew that from thousands of miles away, I do not know. But if there’s a visual equivalent to absolute pitch, Carol had it.

The beauty of things mattered to her – setting a table, arranging furniture, picking a wardrobe. She had the gift of making things look just so, and my own table is the better for it.

My son and I used those napkins last night. More than for their beauty, I value them because they are a visible sign of Carol’s love. My life is more beautiful for it.

 

Remembering Carol

My mother-in-law passed from this life into the next yesterday morning.  In just a few days, with the family I joined half my life ago and the family that’s come into the world since then, I’ll stand by her grave  and give her back to God. But for today, I’ll share one of my favorite moments with Carol:

Sitting on my patio soon after the birth of my second son, she asked if I was going to try for a girl – something she had done thirty-eight years earlier. I answered with a shake of my head, just as her third attempt for a girl brought our newborn son outside and placed him in her arms – her son, my husband, Dave.

Bless you, Carol. Rest in the arms of God.

Amen

Be careful what you wish for: you just might get it. When wishes come true, there are consequences rarely considered beforehand. In some ways, the same can be said for prayers: be careful what you pray for, because there is power in articulating the heart’s deepest desires and fears; no one who comes before God in prayer leaves unchanged by the experience.

Unlike wishes made on stars and birthday candles, prayers are offered up to God with the hope and faith that God is listening with love and concern. We offer our words to God, knowing they are limited because we are limited; we release control to God because we cannot fulfill prayers out of our own resources.

Amen is owning up to our prayers, with all their shortcomings and finitude.

Amen is asking for God’s transforming and infinite love to make out of our lives and the whole of creation something holy.

What an extraordinary grace to be able to say amen. What a miracle that our amens are heard.

 

…and protect me from all harm.

It’s rare that I have the house to myself for more than a few hours, and even rarer that I am home alone for the night. But one such occasion happened last Thursday; sometime around midnight, I checked the doors, turned out the lights, and went to bed. I read for a few minutes, said this prayer, and closed my eyes to sleep. It was later than my usual bedtime, and I slept a bit lighter – pretty typical for me on the first night I’m alone.

A week earlier, my eighty-something neighbor, Barbara, was found wandering the neighborhood in the middle of the night. When I visited her in the hospital the next day, she told me that she woke in the night and saw a man standing in her living room. She ran outside because he was a stranger and didn’t answer her when she spoke to him. She didn’t remember how she got to the hospital, and didn’t recognize me; she wondered why her husband, daughter, and aunt hadn’t visited. She didn’t remember that her husband and aunt had died years back, or that her daughter lived in South Carolina. All she knew was that she didn’t feel safe enough to stay in her home that night. It wasn’t the first time an imaginary stranger interrupted her sleep.

I’ve never prayed to be spared from frightening hallucinations, or to be saved from memory loss because I’ve never had to. I’ve rarely questioned my ability to distinguish reality from fantasy, and the handful of nightmares I’ve had that frightened me ended the minute I woke up. But when I awoke this past Friday, I said my first prayer of thanks for being spared such harm. I prayed that Barbara might be spared as well: imaginary strangers and the absence of long dead loved ones may not be real to the rest of us, but they were enough to send a good neighbor into a deserted street – and rob her of the truth that help was behind any of her neighbors’ doors.

Moving into God’s presence through words