Strength, obedience, service

I arise today (I bind unto myself this day)

Through the strength of the love of cherubim,

In the obedience of angels,

In the service of archangels,

In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,

In the prayers of the patriarchs,

In the predictions of prophets,

In the preaching of apostles,

In the faith of confessors,

In the innocence of holy virgins,

In the deeds of righteous men.

Saint Patrick’s Breastplate, Third stanza (For complete prayer, click Lent 2016: Saint Patrick’s Breastplate)

 

I don’t bind unto myself or arise through strength or in obedience and service in general: I do so through the strength of the love of cherubim, in the obedience of angels, and in the service of archangels. Strength, obedience, and service to all that is holy and compassionate can transform the world, bringing creation closer to the heart of God. Strength, obedience, and service to anything less can break the spirit and bring devastation to the universe. I must be careful what I bind unto myself and what gives me the strength to arise.

Cherubim, angels, and archangels live before God and for God. They see and serve the Mystery of the Creator and Sustainer. If I ever encounter one, I’ll be frightened by my own helplessness in the presence of such power (I’ll definitely need a “fear not”). But they come from the God who loves me and will not harm me. Instead of annihilation from such strength, obedience, and service, I arise because of it.

But I don’t live before and for God with my whole self. I am capable, willing even, to seek partial power for myself rather than rest in the holiness of God. I seek my own good at the expense of others. I cannot wish good things for my enemies, or even my friends, unless the love of God surrounds me.

But I dare to arise because others have arisen. Not completely, not without mistakes, but arisen nonetheless: patriarchs, prophets, apostles, confessors, holy virgins, and righteous men who dared to live in and for God’s love.

Now, it’s my turn.

 

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Ash Wednesday: Saint Patrick’s Breastplate

I arise today 


Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,


Through belief in the Threeness,


Through confession of the Oneness


of the Creator of creation.

The wonder-full arising – a daily blessing, miracle even, when I arise with God’s mighty strength. When I praise God for this day with my first breath upon awakening, the Creator of creation is known to me;

the one who became like you and me, who walked through History with dusty feet and showed us the Way, cementing salvation in our souls, is known to me; the one who is in me, nearer than hands and feet, closer than that first awakening breath, whose presence is real when I am truly awake, is known to me.

I have called these realities the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit but they are the One. Whatever I say about God the Father – omnipresent, eternal, loving – can be said of Jesus and the Spirit. What a great God we serve who has pulled out all the stops to be known in this moment of awakening.

May I be truly engaged this first day of Lent, this Ash Wednesday, in this Presence – and throughout these 40 days be tuned in to the Frequency that is my life.

Offered by Bill Albritton, teacher, leader, follower of Christ.

 

 

 

Resolution: Stay Connected

I keep up with friends by phone, email, the occasional text, over coffee, and at the dinner table. Most of my friends and family keep in touch on phones, tablets, and computers – a few clicks and it’s done. What’s happening with the family, where everyone is meeting, and a review of the new local restaurant go to everyone as a group. Social media is an efficient way to communicate, and this month I’ll jump in – the last one in the information pool.

I’m not opposed to social media. I think it’s a great way to share information. But information isn’t connection. Pictures with captions and a few sentences about my friends’ latest adventures are life snapshots: better than nothing, but just a passing glimpse of who they are. To connect in a personal way, there has to be more. Social media can go both ways: lead to deeper connections or keep those deeper encounters away. Information instead of or for encounter, Oz hiding behind the digital curtain or Bastian Balthazar Bux moving through the words to save a world and reveal himself.

Deep encounter takes time. When I don’t take the time to move through pictures and blurbs on a screen to true connection, the best I can hope for is a passing familiarity with those I love. That’s the easy road, requiring little more from me than an occasional hello. But it doesn’t bring me to the home where they live. To get there is a different journey on a road that requires time, effort, and sacrifice to walk. To be at home with those I love is communion – the true purpose and destination of all communication. Social media puts me at the crossroads. I hope I choose the road that will make all the difference…

[Oz can be found in Baum’s The Wizard of Oz series; Bastian Balthazar Bux lives in Ende’s The Neverending Story.]

Resolution: Exercise

nighttracksUnless I’m sick or the weather prevents it, I walk several times a week. My blood pressure and heart rate benefit from it, and it keeps me from gaining too much weight. Tidal bay waters are a quarter mile from my door, and the river is almost as close. Whichever direction I go, I can find these calm and rough waters, along with trees, birds, and squirrels in minutes. I can also find Tobey hospital, the library, and train tracks. It’s a pleasure to exercise by walking, so this is an easy resolution to keep. But is it possible to go home by another road? There isn’t really a way home that I haven’t already walked multiple times.

It’s an objective truth that I can never walk home the same way twice. The planet is in an different place, the weather changes, nearby houses are repaired or fall into ruin, and the neighbors I see today I may not see tomorrow. I no longer push a stroller or have a toddler holding my hand as I walk. Neighbors have come and gone, and the ones who remain grow older just as I do. Three of my relatives have died, two have been born, nine have graduated from high school, and two are now married. So much of my life’s reality has changed during these years that I’ve been walking from this door, from this home on this street in this town. I never return home the same way twice is my subjective truth because my home isn’t just the white house I live in – it’s the gracious, God-given life I live.

This year as I head out the door for my usual exercise, I’ll continue to enjoy what I see and hear. But I’ll keep in mind how the road that brings me home is different from the one I set out on. It’s not just my life story that’s lived out on these streets, it’s the holy life story of creation. I’m part of the great history of the universe, albeit a very small one. But even my small part, my dusty road, brings me to God-with-Us. So does yours.

 

Resolution: Rest

Rest is the space between notes that gives shape to melody and harmony. Without it, a song becomes unrecognizable. When a musician in the orchestra misses a rest, the entire symphony is lost until the rest is recovered. Pushing through won’t help; only a pause in playing can restore the musician’s place in the symphony. Rests are required for two or more to play together.

I think the same is true for my life. Pushing headlong at breakneck speed doesn’t improve my performance and it puts me at odds with everyone else. I can’t add anything meaningful without the pauses, and I certainly can’t play well with others if I’m too busy playing my own part at my own hectic pace.

I don’t think the point of life is to get to the end as quickly as possible, or jamming in as many notes as possible. It’s not how beautiful music is made, and it certainly isn’t how a beautiful life is created. If I want to sing a new song to the Lord, I have to honor the quiet spaces between the notes. Solo or as a single voice in the choir of all God’s creatures, it’s the rest that makes my life a song rather than a noisy cacophony.

Resolution: Get My Finances In Order

...ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. Luke 2: 9b-12

I usually don’t spend a lot of time thinking about money, but recently I’ve been gathering tax forms, bank balances, mortgage payments, and retirement information as part of my son’s college application process. For the first time, I am looking at the Magi’s story in terms of money.

There is very little information about these visitors in scripture, not even how many came or where they were from. Traditions vary the number (3-12, with 3 the most common today) and where they called home (Persia, India, Yemen?). Were they kings or Zoroastrian priests? Astrologers/astronomers? No one knows, exactly, and traditions contradict one another. But whatever their names, whatever their number, wherever their homeland, these magi spent a considerable fortune to find the infant king. So much treasure just to kneel in the dirt in front of Jesus and Mary. What did they get in return? Only overwhelming joy and a chance to find God-with-Us in a poor house in a strange land.

I’m sure their finances would never be what they might have been had they just stayed home. I’m sure some of their neighbors thought they squandered their fortunes for nothing. But home in the biggest sense is where we find God, or God finds us. How much is it worth to be at home with God in an unknown town in a foreign land? Every penny they spent and more. Given the chance, I hope I manage my money just as wisely.

Resolution: Watch My Weight

This may not be the winter of my discontent, but it is the winter of my limited options for exercising. It’s also the season of bulky sweaters and filling meals. While I keep my weight within an acceptable range, January and February often find me at its top end rather than its middle or bottom. Eating slowly and mindfully will help, as will walking whenever the temperature is above single digits and the sidewalks passable. It’s nothing fancy or drastic, but it’s enough to fulfill a “watch my weight” resolution, in the usual sense of that word.

In the Epiphany sense, it’s my existential weight I need to watch. What I carry in my heart, mind, and soul that can cause damage. I can feast on anger or indulge in resentment until I get a soul or heart ache. Swallowing grief rather than letting it go will choke my spirit. So here is my plan:

I’ll do my best to keep my burdens to a minimum – grieving when I need to and letting go of hurts when it’s time.

I’ll see my work for what it is: a blessing, but not my life.

I won’t go it alone. There are so many wonderful companions on my life’s journey – family, friends, neighbors, strangers.

When it’s time to rest, I’ll rest – physically and spiritually.

I’ll trust that whatever weight I carry, if I offer it to God, God will take it. When God gives it back to me, it will be transformed into something that lightens my spirit.

Resolution: Watch What I Eat

On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. Luke 2:11-12

I’m not one for diets, and many of the ones promising quick weight loss are full ingredients I can’t eat, anyway. I enjoy cooking and have the time to make meals and snacks from scratch, so few prepackaged foods are in my cupboards. I read labels, support local farms, and do my best to buy meats and eggs raised humanely and organically. I do my best to avoid overeating. In the usual sense, I already watch what I eat.

But Epiphany is the season of going home by a different road – or watching what I eat as somehow related to my faith life. Food that sustains is more than proper sourcing and appropriate portioning. It’s a gift to have enough food, and a daily miracle when that food supports small farms that leave the earth enriched rather than depleted. It’s worth the higher price to know that the animals I consume didn’t live and die in dirty, cramped quarters. As my husband once said, isn’t the life of the turkey that provides my Christmas dinner worth much more than forty cents a pound?

This year, I’ll continue to do my usual shopping, cooking, and gardening. My family will say grace and waste as little food as possible. We will support Heifer International so others can do the same. But I’ll watch what I eat in a whole new way, too. I’ll eat slowly enough to savor my food and the company around the table. I’ll notice the colors and shapes on my plate. I’ll do my best to see the hand of God in each meal. I’ll watch what I eat because there’s grace in every bite.

Resolution: Better Use of My Time

My throat started getting a tickle New Year’s Eve, and by the time the ball dropped I could tell a cold was on its way. Unfortunately, it’s turned out to be a rather nasty virus, keeping me home with a fever, sore throat, and a cough. When it was clear that I wouldn’t be healthy by Sunday, I called my sister to break the news: my family and I wouldn’t make the holiday family get-together at her home in New Hampshire.

Last Sunday, my sister called me. She had a rather nasty virus and had to cancel the family get-together scheduled at her home that day. A lot of extra work comes with a rescheduled or missed event: calls to everyone involved, removing edible gifts that might spoil or get stale from baskets and bags, freezing already prepared entrees and desserts, and moving other things on the calendar to fit a new date in. Fourteen of us did that when my sister got sick. When I got sick, I planned on mailing the gifts I could, and taking a trip up to New Hampshire to bring the ones I couldn’t. The best I could hope for was to see a few of my relatives – work and school schedules resume for everyone tomorrow.

My sister called last night. After texting and calling everyone to let them know I was sick, they all decided to postpone. There won’t be a Christmas tree in the room when we have our Yankee swap, and we’ll call it a game night instead of a holiday celebration. Some presents will be swapped before the new event, and I’ll mail our family Christmas letter to everyone rather than hold onto it for another couple of weeks.

Why not cancel the whole thing and go into 2016 without a twice rescheduled event? At first glance, it looks like a lot of wasted time and effort. It’s probably the prudent thing to do, and certainly the most practical. But this year, we are going home by another road. On this road, saving time and seeking convenience miss the point: Time is where we seek the face of God and neighbor, self and family. That’s worth every detour and delay – and my family knows it.

Epiphany Resolutions: Going Home By Another Road

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel’.”

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road. Matthew 2:1-12

 

It’s still Christmas, a week before the visit of the Magi is pencilled in on the church calendar. My tree is still up and lit, and I flip on the outside Christmas lights when daylight fades. My sons are still on vacation (a short one this year), and my husband has a light work load for another day or so.

The same cannot be said for most of the world beyond my door. Christmas candy is 75% off, Super Bowl hype has already started, and Valentines are filling the specialty card sections of the local drug stores. Champagne and sparkling cider are prominently displayed – liquid provisions to usher in 2016. In TV land, resolutions have taken over morning show discussions.

Epiphany and New Year’s resolutions come simultaneously, but I haven’t spend much time pondering this. For whatever reason, the Magi going home by another road and resolving to leave the usual patterns behind have linked up in my mind this week. And so, with the start of 2016, I’ll see what going home by another road looks like a la New Year’s resolutions…who knows where a new road will take me before I make it home…