Stormy

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me,

for in you my soul takes refuge;

in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,

until the destroying storms pass by.

Psalm 57:1, NRSV

The sky is cloudy this morning, and snow is coming. High winds, almost hurricane strength, are on their way. Towns on the seacoast are preparing for storm surge. A blizzard is a fierce storm, and sometimes a destroying one. The last time this happened, the power was out for two days.

Storms are giant reminders that I cannot control the world I live in. I can and do prepare – pulling in trash cans and other things that might blow away, filling the bird feeders, having food and candles and batteries at hand – but I cannot control or avoid the storms that visit my home. Unless I leave.

For most storms, I’ll stay home; losing power and mobility for a day or two is just an inconvenience. But for those storms that threaten to destroy my home, ones that threaten my life and the lives of those I love, I’ll leave home and possessions to find a safer place. Houses can be rebuilt. There’s a big difference between inconvenience and death dealing destruction.

The same is true of the storms in my life that aren’t weather related. Heartache, pain, loss, and death. They hit home, wreaking havoc in my heart, mind, and soul. It’s easy to get lost in these storms; I’ll stay put and take the consequences for most of these, but seek a safe place when it’s beyond my strength.

Whatever type of storm comes, I’ll say a prayer for mercy and refuge. I’ll pray for myself and for others. I’ll seek shelter in the storm in the home that can never be destroyed: God’s loving embrace.

Until Next Year

This weekend, I packed away the Christmas tree, decorations, and angel candlesticks. Then I took this year’s Christmas cards off the beam between the kitchen and living room, taking a few minutes to reread notes and see the handwriting of friends and family. Going through all the cards together I saw something that I’d missed during their gradual accumulation over Advent and Christmas: almost a third of them featured the word JOY. One of my favorites is a simple card with scalloped edges with JOY in red. Beautiful.

January is passing and the whole idea of New Year’s resolutions has faded for many if not most of us. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, really. Change that gladdens the heart and quickens the spirit isn’t tied to the changing year: it resides in our hearts and souls. Finding that change is more a matter of hope and patient listening for the voice of the Spirit than of drastic dietary or lifestyle adjustments.

I kept a few of this year’s JOY cards. Like favorites from holidays past, they will make good bookmarks, keeping my place as I journey through any number of books. Joy will accompany me through the rest of January and beyond. It’s a good reminder: change that leads to a holy life may require work, but it also brings Joy.

Good on the Road

It’s a snowy, icy, rainy mix today. Seen from inside a warm house, this is of no consequence; seen out the car windshield, it’s another story. I’m driving the electric Smart Car today, which is surprisingly good on slick roads. Its low center of gravity, good tread on the tires, and ample power when needed make it a good choice in bad weather. It may not look like much, but it travels the road better than many a larger and more obviously impressive vehicle.

Centered, a firm grip on the ground, and powerful when needed. Able to travel in uncertain conditions without getting stuck, lost, or becoming a danger to others. These are the qualities that make a car Smart, a friend beloved, and a life well lived. It’s also an accurate description of the life of faith.

It’s not about size or flash, taking up the most space or demanding constant attention. It’s about moving toward God, taking care of the others on the road, and staying in the present moment with all its beautiful uncertainty. Smart Car wisdom.

Letting Go

After dodging the cold everyone else had over the holidays, I am sniffling my way through the second week of 2015. It’s nothing terrible, but enough to keep me at home and quiet, limiting my activities to what is necessary or can be done without a lot of moving about: enough laundry for everyone to have clean sheets and clothes, enough cooking for meals and lunch boxes, necessary emails, and some writing will be enough for today. I’ll rest now rather than be forced to do so by escalating symptoms and secondary infections.

When I let go of my usual activities, I move into a different reality. I quiet my body, mind, heart, and soul. I become acutely aware of this time and this place: breathing, the rain on the window, the scent of candles recently lit. I come upon myself as a self rather than as an active agent in this or that context. A self held by God and aware of it.

I don’t need a cold to let go and quiet my self. Prayer and meditation, walking or looking at the ocean can get me there, too. Anywhere and any time, I can let go and give myself back to God. But there’s a cost. Spending time as a full self before God will cost me my faith in and fixation on all the partial selves that are happy to be limited to activities and accomplishments, worries and inabilities – the idolatry of brokenness and pessimism, the lure of surface spirituality, the misguided values that shred the soul and damage the body. Why does it often take an illness to give to God the very things that kill my soul?

IFF

It’s something I remember from high school math class, shorthand for “if and only if.” It means that one thing will happen only if something else does. Tom will buy apples from Bob IFF Donna buys pears from Tom. If Donna doesn’t buy pears, the Tom and Bob deal falls apart. You can also find IFF in short or long form in logic puzzles and online games. IFF creates conditions that affect everything else, making games more fun and solving puzzles challenging and possible. If and only if.

I think New Year’s resolutions often come from a game of “if and only if” we play with ourselves and others. I’ll train for a marathon, keep my home and mind free of clutter, eat only healthy foods, and accomplish more with fewer hours and less effort. Behind these resolutions is this hidden IFF: Happiness/love/success/contentment/worth will be mine if and only if I train for the marathon/keep my home and mind free of clutter/eat only healthy foods/ accomplish more.

I like “ if and only if” when it comes to equations, games, and puzzles; I’m suspicious of IFF when it shows up in real life for a couple of reasons:

1. Unlike games, equations, and puzzles, life is open ended. There are any number of things that can and do happen. If and only if assumes a closed reality.

2. IFF thinking assumes that I know the only or best way something can come about. The conditions I set may not be the way reality works.

3. Usually peace, happiness, love, and worth don’t come from getting a specific thing. If and only if may get me a particular object, but I’ll eventually want something else – and the cycle continues.

4. What I really want is to know that I’m not lost to myself, others, and most especially God.

In 2015, I’ll do my best not to reduce God, self, and neighbor to any IFF. I can’t do it alone, though. A holy life is always a life lived in communion, always lived in this expanding and sacred cosmos. Unconditionally mine and everybody else’s.

Resolution

If I took the advice of television experts, now is the perfect time for a new plan…for eating healthy foods, getting in better shape, starting a new professional venture, cleaning and organizing my living space, and taking a critical look at my financial situation.

Two days into 2015, I haven’t done any of those things. I did have a healthy portion of granola for breakfast, but that’s what I’ve been doing most mornings for well over a year. My husband and I went for a brisk walk last night to check out the local christmas lights, but that’s something we’ve been doing for almost two decades. I’m serving on my local library board and I continue writing, but neither of these are new endeavors. I have no plans for a new organization or cleaning regimen at home. As for finances, things are about the same.

Does this lack of new beginnings mean I’m in a rut, or does it mean I’m on a fruitful path? If such things are judged by the results they produce, then the question’s answer is in the future, not the present. If such things are judged by how my life pattern honors God and neighbor, the question’s answer is nowhere (nowhen?) but in this present moment.

In 2015, I’ll try to honor those I love and those I don’t. I’ll do my best to live each day aware of God’s presence in this good and holy place. I’ll try not to blame others when things don’t work out as I’d like, and do my best to be grateful for what I have and what I lack. I’ll be patient (God willing) and I’ll ask myself a single question before settling comfortably into a routine or beginning a new one:

What are God’s dreams for 2015?

Not that I will find an adequate answer, but it’s a good way to keep my ego in check, my feet on the ground, and my heart set on something worthwhile.

Old and New

What has been is what will be,

and what has been done is what will be done;

there is nothing new under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 1:9

2014 is on the way out, 2015 not yet arrived. My sons and I spent yesterday with my side of our family at our yearly New Hampshire post-Christmas gathering. In one way, there was nothing new about this year’s version of the decades old tradition. Most of the same characters showed up, with three absences due to work or other engagements. The menu was a mix of past favorites (chowder, chili, veggie sticks, and wine) and one or two new items (bread bowls and icebox cake). In another way, everything had changed. Last year, MacKenzie hadn’t been born yet, Kristen and Jay weren’t married, and my brother was still living in Arizona. The children have grown in ways seen and unseen, and the adults have changed in ways hidden and obvious. Life continues along its course, but everyone involved lives it in uniquely blessed ways. The same is true for countless other families coming together in countless other places; what has been done is what will be done.

But a new year is coming just as surely as an old year is leaving. Giving thanks for what has been, living into what is, and entrusting God with what will be – old and new, endings and beginnings. Letting go of the past to embrace the present and future – that’s my working definition of faith, December 28, 2014. Nothing new under the sun, and all things new every minute of every day.

Let it be

UnknownLuke 1:26-38

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary, said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. Luke 1:26-38 NRSV

There is a rich selection of scripture readings for this day, but how can one not choose the Annunciation even if the chronology is truncated? At least I couldn’t. This enduring and endearing story is at the heart of the Nativity for many of us, I imagine. Growing up in a “progressive” Protestant church environment (yes, even in Tennessee many moons ago there was such a thing) one didn’t much deal with the virgin birth (or one explored the hermeneutics to determine if Isaiah was properly translated regarding such an event and debates ensued as to its relevance – yada, yada, yada). How we loved the sound of our intellectual bloviations.

These days I’m not as smart as I used to be. These days I just welcome the Christ Child, Messiah, Yeshua, into my heart as Mary did so long ago – no questions asked, no explanations necessary – and even with God’s grace occasionally mutter “let it be with me according to your word.” Not only is this story enduring and endearing — it is life-changing.

Come, Lord Jesus, quickly come.

Offered on December 24, 2014, by Bill Albritton, prayer ministry leader, ponderer, child of God.

Stir and Gladden

Psalm 66, 67, 117; Isaiah 11:10-16; Revelation 20:11-21: 8; Luke 1:5-25

“Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth” the psalmist exhorts – not just to you and me but ALL the EARTH. The other psalm appointed for this morning proclaims, “Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.” Not to be outdone, the psalm for evening worship (117, the shortest psalm in the psalter and the shortest chapter in the Bible) shouts: “Praise the Lord, all you nations! Extol him, all you peoples! For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever. Praise the LORD!” That’s it – that’s the whole psalm: it reminds me to keep this short!

These hymns of praise join with Isaiah’s prophecy of the return of the remnant from the Diaspora and the dawning of the messianic age, along with that great vision given to John of Patmos in Revelation of the new Jerusalem where all things are made new, every tear wiped away and where death will be no more. All come together to stir and gladden the heart as we near Christmas day.

But wait. There’s more. What is this about the angel Gabriel proclaiming “joy and gladness” through the birth of another to be named John (Hebrew Yohanan, “God is gracious”) who will make all the earth ready for the Messiah? This John, who “even before his birth…will be filled with the Holy Spirit,” is to become John the Baptizer, the forerunner, the harbinger, the herald, the robin and witch hazel of the Spring of Life.

Good news is in the air, indeed.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

Offered on December 23, 2014, by Bill Albritton, teacher, motivational guide, singer of psalms, child of God.

 

Moving into God’s presence through words