It’s in small print, just before the end, but it’s there – that space to pause and let joys and concerns bubble to the surface of my mind and continue their ascent to God. What a gift, this moment of rest from the focus on whatever I am doing at the moment. What a gift, to move beyond my own concerns and challenges to be others in spirit and prayer.
The love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. Romans 5:5
It’s been a summer of drought. High humidity and temperatures, but not a drop of water to bring this parched land life-giving relief. Many afternoons, the air has been so saturated that it seemed impossible that the rain wouldn’t come down. But with a couple of welcome exceptions, the life-giving raindrops never made it to the ground.
Spiritual droughts have come to my inner landscape more than once, when my spirit was straw more than a green and growing vine. At such times, I choked on these words because they felt something like an aspiration more than a statement of the obvious and true. When I most needed to pray, when quieting my inner voices to be in God’s presence was most necessary – that’s when I was least able to do either. I turned away from the very sources that offered my soul refreshment and life. When desert times came, I chose to remain in that dry place when I could have moved into a greener, life-giving place.
But true these words remain. God pours love into us, and remains with us in the Spirit. When my own small reservoir of love is inadequate, I am filled again and again from the infinite sea of God’s own love. If I fully accept these words as truth, I could offer love to every living thing and never worry about running out.
It does not insist on its own way. I Corinthians 13:5, NRSV
[For the full text, click I Corinthians 13 above.]
The coffee pot was moved back to the corner, and thus began the battle…
The church kitchen had been a disorganized mess for years, so the youth group took it on as a way to contribute to the life of the community. Cupboards that hadn’t been opened in years, much less emptied, were given a thorough scrubbing; what was broken or dangerous was removed; what was left was cleaned, organized, and labeled. The walls were degreased and repainted. It took hours, but the transformation was spectacular.
One of the best things: the coffee station had been relocated to a space near the service window. Everything was within easy reach, and it made coffee hour so much easier for hosts and guest alike. The youth group did the honors that first Sunday after the reorganization, hosting the coffee hour and revealing the new kitchen.
The grumbling started within hours. How could the teens change the kitchen without asking (they had permission from the church leaders)? How could they toss things out without permission (only broken and expired things were thrown away)? What right did they have to change anything?
The next Sunday, the coffee pots and machine had been moved back to the corner by persons unknown, recreating the old set-up. The youth, assuming someone didn’t know about the new place, moved it again. The next Sunday, it happened again. And again. And again. Finally, the youth gave up. Their hard work and best intentions had run into a communal unwillingness to change. The coffee making status quo was restored, but the damage was significant: the youth no longer believed that their efforts or their presence were welcome.
I doubt the adults who moved the coffee pots were intentionally causing damage to the teens of the church. I’m almost positive that there wasn’t a conspiracy intent on rejecting and dismantling the gift of time and effort given by the youth. This was just a typical knee-jerk reaction, a reclaiming of turf, an exercise of power. I wish the adults had asked themselves this question:
What is more important: keeping things the way I want them or honoring the gift offered by others?
The true and most disturbing question: what would have been their answer?
If anyone is in Christ she/he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Godself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. (BCP, p.106, 2 For. 5:17-18)
God offers us the chance to be a new creation, every minute of every day. The old can pass away at any time, and the new ushered in with gladness. This isn’t something we do for ourselves – it’s a blessing Christ offers.
Thanks be to God, we respond.
But there’s something missing if we leave it at that. God also gave us the ministry of reconciliation – the joy and responsibility of handing on that reconciliation in our own lives, our own relationships. It’s not an easy or pleasant thing in all times, places, and circumstances. Sometimes, reconciliation is painful, difficult, and at the expense of something we’d rather do or have.
This ministry of reconciliation doesn’t seem like much of a gift compared to the chance to be a new creation. But there it is. I’m going to take it on faith that this ministry of reconciliation is every much the gift that new life is. For that reason, I’ll respond:
The time signature in a musical piece sets the rhythm – common time, three-quarter time, etc. It gives a frame for the notes, directions on how they work together in time, and keeps everyone singing and playing the various parts working together to transform dark spots on white paper into melody and harmony. It’s the touchpoint for improvisation, the place of reference for scat singing and jazz solos. When I dance, it directs my feet; it provides the when and how often for clapping.
It’s usually easy enough to find the rhythm that the time signature sets. But every so often, it isn’t so easy. I can’t quite find the underlying beat, and the pattern of the notes escapes me. Turning on the radio at the end of a song or during a guitar solo; a cappella chanting; some modern classical music that changes rhythm unexpectedly and often: these can throw me off, and it takes more than a few seconds to find my way in the piece. I have to wait until I can feel the structure and pattern in the music. It’s unsettling.
My spiritual life feels that way sometimes. The time signature changes throughout my life, and it throws me off until I find the rhythm; I’ve tuned in somewhere in the middle instead of at the start (more honestly, I tuned out for the beginning part!); someone’s offering a riff on faith, and I miss its connection to the standard version.
Finding the rhythm of the Spirit may take some time, and I may not catch on as quickly as I’d like – I may even clap in the wrong places. But given time and a little patience, I’ll find my place in the music. I may appreciate the time signature all the more for having missed it.
[The Book of Love, Shall We Dance?, Peter Gabriel, 2004]
They come and go, tucked in envelopes or tucked under the ribbons of a present: cards. Birthday, Sympathy, New Baby!, Anniversary, Thank You, Thinking of You, and so many more arrive at and depart from this place I call home. Sure, some are forgettable in word and image; but others are amazing – wisdom and beauty in words and individually wrapped art work. They brighten my bookcases and hold my place in books. I thought I’d share some of my favorites with you.
The weeds in the garden were well on their way to taking over the bed, so I spent an hour pulling them away from the tomatoes, chives, snow peas, and sunflowers. When I began, the sun was just peeking over the roof line; when I finished up, it was well on its way to the middle of the sky.
I don’t usually pay much attention to this daily arc through the sky – unless it’s to seek shade or because the sun’s heat is doing its best to turn my skin pink. But today, I began my weeding at the base of the sunflowers. In the hour I spent in the garden, the sunflowers changed their orientation: all of them began facing one direction and turned their faces to another by the time I stopped pulling weeds. The sun had moved, and they changed their orientation to continue facing it, following the life-giving light.
When I water the garden this evening, the sunflowers will be facing in the opposite direction to their morning orientation. It’s why they are called sunflowers, I suppose: though grounded in one particular place, they turn with the sun’s movement. If that isn’t an every day miracle, I don’t know what is.
It struck me that I can do the same thing. I cannot move from the particular time and circumstance that set the parameters of my life’s span, but I can choose my orientation. I can choose to be moved by something life-giving beyond myself. And within this very small, brief, and specific life span I call my own, I can choose to act accordingly.
Lord, keep my eyes and heart open. Only with your help can I look beyond myself and act with compassion for all the life you’ve created. Amen.
My upstairs neighbor, George Greer, said that the first time he said goodbye to my nine month old son, Colin; they were his parting words to Colin every time after. I thought it was an amusing way to part company with a baby at the time, but over the 20+ years since, I’ve come to see it as a powerful benediction:
Be brave. Take on the day’s adventure – who knows what will happen on any given day, in any given minute? Do the work which may be necessary but won’t always be easy or fulfilling.
Be brave. Don’t hide who you are. Meet whomever and whatever comes as your true self, not hiding behind a mask. The world may knock the stuffing out of you sometimes, but it will also provide steadfast companions to help you on your way.
Be brave. Don’t live a lesser life because a deep one involves loss and pain. You can change the world in ways no one else can, but it takes some fortitude.
Be brave. With God’s help, be brave.
Let me not turn coward before its difficulties or prove recreant to its duties.
[For the full prayer, click For Today: Phillips Brooks prayer above]
It’s the last thing you read before you leave one Forward Day by Day for the next one. I’d call it a way to redefine the day from a given number of hours to accomplish tasks to another chance to live humbly before God and in loving relationship with self and neighbor. It was written by Phillips Brooks, the man who penned the word to “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and served as rector of Trinity Church in Boston, Massachusetts. There’s an old fashioned air to this prayer, and a powerful use of words. It’s going to be the focus of these post-Easter writings, and my daily prayer. I hope you join me in praying:
O God: Give me strength to live another day; Let me not turn coward before its difficulties or prove recreant to its duties; Let me not lose faith in other people; Keep me sweet and sound of heart, in spite of ingratitude, treachery, or meanness; Preserve me from minding little stings or giving them; Help me to keep my heart clean, and to live so honestly and fearlessly that no outward failure can dishearten me or take away the joy of conscious integrity: Open wide the eyes of my soul that I may see good in all things; Grant me this day some new vision of thy truth; Inspire me with the spirit of joy and gladness; and make me the cup of strength to suffering souls; in the name of the strong Deliverer, our only Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
[Forward Day by Day, Forward Movement, Cincinnati, OH, www.forwardmovement.org]
This is the first in a series on this prayer. For more on this prayer, click “For Today” above.