Category Archives: Biblical Reflection

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

I Love You

Jeanne Pena is a master at saying these three precious words. So is John Capellaro. Fred Rogers said like, but everyone knew there was love behind it. The more candles I add to my birthday cake, the more I’m convinced that these are the real movers and shakers of the world.

If ever the Kingdom of Heaven is realized in the Here and Now, it will come because every living creature has learned how to say, believe, and live these words.

 

What Did You Learn?

My grandfather used to ask me and my siblings this question every day when we got back from school. He asked on the days we had no school, too. Why do you ask the same thing every day?, I asked him more than once. Why do you think?, he asked back.

What did life bring today – it’s another way of asking the same thing. This day is an ephemeral creature: elusive, mysterious, and here for such a very brief moment. It’s so easy to let it pass by without giving it a second glance. Good, bad, or a mixed bag, today’s life won’t be here tomorrow and can’t be preserved in a mason jar like jam or pickles. This might be close to why my grandfather asked the same question every day.

There are days of joy, and days of immense pain. Not everything I’ve learned has made me happy, but not a single thing has been a waste of my time or attention. When my days are spent, and I’m asked what I learned from my time  on this earth, with grateful thanks to my grandfather, I’ll have quite a few things to offer up.

[Today, I learned that potatoes are growing in the compost.]

What’s my homework?

Write down your homework assignments.

In my son Colin’s third grade classroom, all the homework assignments were written on the chalkboard, right next to the door. In my son Jared’s fifth grade classroom, the week’s worth of homework was posted on a board; each day’s work could be found under its day’s heading – Monday, Tuesday, etc. School life is a lot easier when expectations are clearly stated, and learners given the time and skills to meet them. It’s a good practice, this writing down assignments.

This past week, I began my fifth year as my public library’s learning gardener. With Marcia and Katarina, my co-leaders, an eight week plan was created, materials selected, and our overall expectations for the program listed. Each day, I do my best to encourage the pre-school participants (and their parents, grandparents, siblings, and other guardians) to experience the garden, learn one new skill or idea, and try a garden-based snack. Each week, my co-leaders and I sit down to review the week and evaluate what did and did not work. Ideas for the next year are jotted down – our best attempt to learn from our successes and failures. At the end of the summer, we’ll look back over the entire program – not just for the pleasure it gives, but to grow next year’s program from its fertile soil.

If I were to write my assignments on a board – what I need to do to grow as I foster the growth of my young learners, I guess the list would look something like this…

  1. Keep what brought joy to the children and adults who spent time in the garden.
  2. Leave the outside world in better shape every year – garden beds, trees, bushes, patios and pathways.
  3. Point out the startlingly beautiful everyday miracles – butterflies, birds, spiderwebs, fireflies, flowers, and rocks.
  4. Be a good neighbor to the bunnies, squirrels, hawk, and groundhog that call the garden area home.
  5. Remember that the assignments are a means to a holy life, not ends unto themselves.
  6. Be a good partner, and let others lead when they are ready.
  7. Love the people life gives you.

Open Your Books

It started with a chocolate cream pie one August morning in 2002 – that’s when Joan entered the book of my life and my family entered hers. It continued when she introduced my four year old son to her tree swing, and admired my one year old’s toy car. She was expecting us that August because we were staying in the beach house that belonged to her son and daughter-in-law, just a few hundred feet from her door. I wasn’t expecting a kind gesture or a warm welcome for my family; had Joan never bothered with us, I’d never  have known what I was missing. My life, my family’s life story, would have been the poorer for her absence.

Joan came into our family story, but she didn’t come alone. She brought her husband, Ben. Ben and Lena, the next generation down, added their family stories to the book of our lives – adventures of family who lived in the beach house long before it sheltered us, and the secret toy stash hidden below the bookshelf. Joan’s daughter and husband, Jaime and Larry, added their stories as well – and a quick guide to the best asian food in the area.

Over the years, Joan and her family brought more blessings than I can list. Her husband and son made beautiful benches for a library garden project I was working on; my father got a tour of the family oyster business – something he treasured long after he had returned home to New Hampshire. Joan was kind enough to accept soup and bread every so often because she knew it was an expression of love from me and mine to her and hers.

Yesterday, I stood with my husband beside the place where Joan is resting after a life well lived. Surrounded by her family and the friends who were her larger family, we said our farewells and thanks to her. How much she was loved and how well she loved is written in the book of life that holds all of our sacred stories. It’s an honor to be included in Joan’s story – a gift that came only because we opened our books to each other.

Child of God, daughter, wife, mother, grandmother, friend. Your book is truly a book of love…

[Peter Gabriel, The Book of LoveShall We Dance (sound track), Casablanca Records, October 12, 2004