The Thrill of Overcoming…a post by Jim

When I was in High School part of the requirement for our 11th grade Physical Education class was to wrestle other students in the class. I hated it. On a mat in front of the entire class with someone who was stronger than me. My record was pretty pathetic until the one time that I somehow got my opponent in a full-Nelson hold. He went limp and I pinned him for the three second count (never mind that the hold was illegal … I didn’t know that and had no idea how I wound up getting him in such a hold!). It was one of the few times in HS athletics that I felt like I was an overcomer. I still remember the feeling! I won. I defeated my opponent.

In Romans 12 Paul ends the great chapter by saying, “Don’t be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.” In a world of great evil (including times when we sin and times when we are wounded by the sins of others) we need the challenge of being an overcomer. How do we live victoriously over our attitudes and actions that are an affront to who we are in Christ? And how do we not let our wounding at the hands of others get the best of us?

The answer Paul offers is to overcome evil with good. In other words, our focus needs to be on what it means to keep in step with the Spirit and live the life of Christ in our ordinary lives. It is tempting to focus on what we need to stop or on our pain that comes from the actions of others. But we are told to concentrate on the good, the true, and the beautiful of the fruits of the Spirit.

Today I encourage you to have a clear and compelling vision of what it would look like to live as if the Spirit had complete control of your attitudes and actions. Have an image of what will most honor Christ in every situation you face. And live toward that. Paul promises that we will overcome whatever it is that keeps us from living our truest identity in Christ.

Wild Geese…a poem by Mary Oliver

This is a beautiful poem that speaks for itself and the first few lines are of particular encouragement for those tortured souls…you know who you are.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Serve Well but Don’t Neglect Prayer…a post by Jim

Joy and I celebrated our 40th anniversary this summer. We saved 5 years to do something very special. We traveled to Scotland and very much enjoyed a couple weeks there. In our time there I was reminded of a couple things. First, we should have saved for 10 years! Traveling is expensive. Second, the history of Scotland is violent. So much fighting between clans and other groups (e.g. Vikings and English). Third, the topography of that small country is amazingly diverse. From the pastoral land in the southeast to the rugged mountains of the northwest. A beautiful country.

But the thing that captured me the most came from our time at the Holy Island (in northeast England). A king gave Aidan a very small island as a base for his Christian missionary work. He and his few followers built a small monastery where people could come to learn about Christ. But the hustle and bustle of the monastery led Aidan to withdraw to a smaller island that could be accessed when the tide was out! He went there to give his life to prayer.

Within a few years northern England and most of Scotland turned from their pagan ways to embrace Christ. It didn’t happen primarily because of a large number of missionaries. It was because of prayer. Aidan and others gave themselves to a life of prayer for themselves and the people they served.

We live in a time where there are many avenues of evangelism. Thank God that many reach out with the Good News through social media, meetings, social justice and the like. But what I came away with from my time in Scotland was the necessity of prayer.

Can we give ourselves to more prayer?

I Lift My Eyes To The Mountains…a post by Joy

 

PSALM 121: 1-2

I lift up my eyes to the mountains–

where does my help come from?

My help comes from the Lord,

the Maker of heaven and earth.

 

Psalm 121 has always been one of my favorites. My father had all 4 of us children memorize the entire Psalm when we were young. It’s amazing that these verses have come to my heart and mind at different times in my life, even after having not read the Psalm for a very long time. Today, as I look at the mountains in front of me and all the different kinds of mountains that we have seen in our travels over the last few weeks, I’m amazed at God’s handiwork. Even while the mountain is “sitting still” there is life being lived on it’s surface and down below in the depths of the earth. Beautiful waterfalls trailing down the mountain, prolific colorful flowers, and sheep that graze on the side of the mountain remind me of God’s gracious gifts. These elements are all a part of the help He provides for us in that there is beauty to nourish our souls and a reminder that He provides our every need.

Imaginatively, I wonder if the mountains are ever amazed at God’s handiwork in us as human beings. I know this is a crazy question to ask yet I can’t resist the thought of it!

Part of the handiwork of God in us through Christian spiritual formation is knowing when to stop to rest. Discernment about preparation for the next step or not taking the next step simply takes time of “looking unto the mountains for God’s help.” For me, mountains represent a place of stillness. While resting during this discernment process, His reply may simply be to “stay”; “wait”; “sleep”; “ponder”; “sit still”; “take just one step” or “it’s time to play.”

Whatever His answer may be, we can rest assured that while we are in the process of living life as we look for His help, “….the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth, (including the mountains) will not slumber, neither will He sleep.” (Psalm 121:4)

Beacon of Light…a post by Joy

As a child I remember that my mother loved to light candles for many of our evening meals. For me, it made the meal time extra inviting along with the delicious food served, and the ordinary conversations of daily life. Time permitting, my father would tell a favorite story using the candles as a prop that we as children, and even as adults, loved to hear.

As a college student returning home for a visit, and when Jim and I were first married, I remember the candle light in the window welcoming us home.  It was as though it was a beacon of light guiding our way back into the open arms of family life lived there.

January is the month that my mother passed away 31 years ago.  I am especially mindful during this time of what I learned from her about living, loving, and dying. She loved Jesus Christ with a tender hearted passion.  She reflected the light of Christ to all who knew her.

Through the years, lighting a candle often makes me think of my mother and the tradition that I have integrated into my own family’s life. Yet, for almost 15 years now, I am also reminded of the presence of the Holy Spirit who lives within us as believers.   Christ, as the Light of the World, beckons us to reflect His light to others in every way that we can. Part of the journey of Christian Spiritual formation is to notice or pay attention to how Christ “shows up” for us in ordinary every day life. This simple act of lighting a candle is one such “noticing” for me.

Christ is the One who is the beacon of light for us daily. Thank goodness He will also welcome us home for that particular time when it is our turn to cross the divide between earth and heaven receiving us into “family life lived there.”

I Have a Dream…a post by Jim

Martin Luther King, much like Martin Luther centuries ago and the Apostle John and the Old Testament prophets of old, had a vision of a different future. They had a dream of what life might look like when the kingdom of God is more fully lived on earth. They called people to live that reality.

We cannot live well without a vision, without a dream, without hope of something better. At so many levels and in so many places we see the brokenness, suffering, and sin of people on the edge of the vision. Indeed, all of us need a sense of “we were not created for this so surely God has something better in store for us.”

Yesterday, as we celebrated a national holiday honoring a man with a dream of people being judged, not by the color of their skin, but the quality of their character all of us should pause and ask ourselves, “How can I better ‘do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God’?”

Be specific. Not random but INTENTIONAL acts of righteousness, kindness, and meekness. Maybe tip someone twice as much as normal. Maybe prepare a meal. Maybe 15 minutes of quiet prayer listening to God with a spirit of surrender.

What is your dream? How are you living toward it today?

For Longing…a New Year blessing from John O’Donohue

For Longing

Poem by John O’Donohue

blessed be the longing that brought you here
and quickens your soul with wonder.

may you have the courage to listen to the voice of desire
that disturbs you when you have settled for something safe.

may you have the wisdom to enter generously into your own unease
to discover the new direction your longing wants you to take.

may the forms of your belonging – in love, creativity, and friendship –
be equal to the grandeur and the call of your soul.

may the one you long for long for you.
may your dreams gradually reveal the destination of your desire.

may a secret providence guide your thought and nurture your feeling.

may your mind inhabit your life with the sureness
with which your body inhabits the world.

may your heart never be haunted by ghost-structures of old damage.

may you come to accept your longing as divine urgency.
may you know the urgency with which God longs for you.

A Thanksgiving Invitation…by Tom and Oriah Mountain Dreamer

Thanksgiving is upon us and with it comes the requisite gatherings with family and friends, or not. These spaces of holiday gatherings can be either interesting or disinteresting.  The usual suspects arrive and tell the usual stories with the usual chatter.  What could make these interactions different or interesting?  The following poem leads us in a beautiful invitation to have an interesting holiday with whomever we are with and most importantly ourself. 

The Invitation

by Oriah Mountain Dreamer

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon.

I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shrivelled and closed from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it, or fade it, or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own; if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, be realistic, remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself. If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul. If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty even when it is not pretty every day. And if you can source your own life from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand at the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, ‘Yes.’

It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone and do what needs to be done to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the centre of the fire with me and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.

Silence and Imagination…a post by Rich

A good friend of mine, Pastor Dan Braga sent along to me Andrew Sullivan’s article entitled, “I Used to be A Human Being.”  Sullivan writes,  “The Judeo-Christian tradition recognized a critical distinction — and tension — between noise and silence, between getting through the day and getting a grip on one’s whole life. The Sabbath — the Jewish institution co-opted by Christianity — was a collective imposition of relative silence, a moment of calm to reflect on our lives under the light of eternity. It helped define much of Western public life once a week for centuries — only to dissipate, with scarcely a passing regret, into the commercial cacophony of the past couple of decades. It reflected a now-battered belief that a sustained spiritual life is simply unfeasible for most mortals without these refuges from noise and work to buffer us and remind us who we really are. But just as modern street lighting has slowly blotted the stars from the visible skies, so too have cars and planes and factories and flickering digital screens combined to rob us of a silence that was previously regarded as integral to the health of the human imagination.”

The journey into the practice of silence and solitude or some form of sabbath rest is battered and assaulted at every turn.  I recall my mother lamenting one Sunday morning back around 1960 the elimination of Sunday blue laws in New York that prohibited grocery stores from opening on Sunday. Her words were simple, “We don’t need that.”  She was affirming the reality now erased from our general community consciousness that Sunday was for rest.  Sullivan, in his article particularly charges the arrival of our smart phones only a decade ago as the new and devastating intruder on our space where silence could once live.  

What captured my attention regarding Sullivan’s thoughts was his insight regarding the relationship between silence- sabbath- and imagination.  “But just as modern street lighting has slowly blotted the stars from the visible skies, so too have cars and planes and factories and flickering digital screens combined to rob us of a silence that was previously regarded as integral to the health of the human imagination.” Silence, certainly when practiced faithfully leads to self-integration.  We move past our fragmented and fringed living to an experience where our soul becomes more solid and whole.  We move from the circumference of our being to the center of our soul through silence.  Without silence we live scattered and superficial. We become dulled by a narrowness of noise that over time  deadens the soul. 

Silence before God, which forms the solid soul becomes the pathway to a healthy imagination.  The soul that has space to breathe, to hear, to see, to smell and to touch finds life’s simple realities pointing beyond themselves in their beauty and goodness to God’s presence.  

I am fortunate to live near woods where my screened in porch, my favorite room in our home, allows the singing birds to enter my times of silence. This past summer and now fall season is filled with blue-jays crying out in their unique song. Each time I hear them I remember as a young boy their crying voice among the pine trees of our church camp where our family would spend time in the Adirondack Mountains each Memorial Day weekend. The blue jay’s voice now leads to more. A pathway to memories. A daily reminder of God’s presence over the decades instilling faith that reaches back generations in our family. Memories of ordinary and faithful parents who worked, and gave and loved and worshipped, come along with the jay’s cry. In silence emerges a sense of being that is grounded and anchored traversing along the ordinary to God’s presence here and now. The soul is deepened and then . . .expands. Imagination begins to flourish in the wide open spaces of silence where faith experiences the Trinitarian God who lives and moves and has his being in the blue jay’s cry and beyond in the quiet and calm of the silence. A sacramental consciousness is awakened and nourished. Imagination grows in God and about God.

Sullivan suggests a simple discipline that once a week we find a 24 hour period to put our phones away along with our other electronic gadgets and allow space for the silence.  Not a bad idea if we wish to imagine more.

Imagination and Our Spiritual Journey…a post by Rich

Have we lost our capacity for imagination as Christians?  Have we assigned imagination to child’s play but now of course we are adults so we set aside childish ways?  Imagination is about pretend, we all know that.  We use our imagination for fantasy. Imagination takes us into the world of the improbable and the impossible.  Adult life has to face what is real and not engage in some imaginary goose chase.  So this is how many have come to think about imagination. 

Could there be more to imagination than what we imagine? Imagination is a faculty or capacity of the mind. We all use our  imagination. We can imagine a relaxing vacation at the beach, a positive outcome to a difficult conversation, or a family living in peace. When we look at the way Jesus taught, it seems like he invited us to regularly use our imagination. The prodigal son story, or when he says “the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed,” or in his parable of the sower, or even his statement “I am the way . . .” All invite us to use our imagination.  Paul seems to invite the use of our imagination as well in his theological teaching when he speaks of our be baptized in Christ and our being raised in him. He further instructs us to set our minds on things above where Christ is seated.  All this and more invites imagination. 

Reason helps us to discern what is true. Imagination which is intertwined with faith enables us, as CS Lewis argued, to discover and know meaning. Imagination isn’t just about pretend or fantasy. Quite the contrary, without imagination we would never truly know reality.  Reason allows me to observe my world and draw some conclusions from the world’s beauty and complexity for instance.  Imagination helps me see God’s eternal power and deity is manifest in all of God’s created order. Imagination helps us to see and know more.  

Imagination plays an essential role in our reading of Scripture and our ability to enter the story of God. We can imagine ourselves with Christ and listen to him as he teaches and observe him as he heals. Imagination that is educated and structured in God’s word becomes a real source for discerning in relationships and in problem solving. Imagination is most important in our spiritual life because it can assist in fostering experiences of God’s presence.  Perhaps it is time for all of us to consider that imagination is a gift from God for our spiritual journey. And this gift actually assist us in knowing what is most real! Imagine that!