Dec 13 2010

Patience

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A quiet day of sunshine, writing and prayer…deep in Advent waiting, working on my dissertation and cooking a batch of soup.

“Instead of asking why the help has not come, the person at prayer learns to look carefully at what is actually going on in his or her life,… and ask, ‘Could this be the help that God is providing?'” (Eugene Peterson, Earth and Altar, 76)

Meditating on this poem by Teilhard de Chardin as I write:

    Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
    We are quite naturally impatient in everything
    to reach the end without delay.
    We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
    We are impatient of being on the way
    to something unknown,
    something new.
    Yet it is the law of all progress that is made
    by passing through some stages of instability
    and that may take a very long time.

    And so I think it is with you.
    Your ideas mature gradually. Let them grow.
    Let them shape themselves without undue haste.
    Do not try to force them on
    as though you could be today what time
    — that is to say, grace —
    and circumstances
    acting on your own good will
    will make you tomorrow.
    Only God could say what this new spirit
    gradually forming in you will be.

    Give our Lord the benefit of believing
    that his hand is leading you,
    and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
    in suspense and incomplete.

In gratitude for….
Sunshine after a pouring rain weekend.

Singing in the Bethany choir and the little community we are.

Words. No matter how much I wrestle, I still love them.

Lovely dinner with Anna, Maggie, and Erin at a yummy vegan restaurant, Plum. Who knew faux cheese could taste so good?

Delightful conversations at church yesterday.

Ornament making with Jack and Jane, with Sam and Alex.

Glitter–everywhere, especially in hair as a shimmery crown.
A wonderful sermon on Peace.

An interim pastor comes January 10th!

The worship song, Hear us, a prayer for when I don’t know what else to do except pray.


Dec 6 2010

Sword Fighting

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Sometimes I’m sure I rattle when I walk or think or talk or simply stand, paralyzed.

Chains, binding and heavy, clank about me.  Doubt. Worry. Fear. Sadness.

I read about children in Ethiopia, whose home is a pile a trash, who drink rain water that collects among the garbage and eat whatever they can scavenge.  I pace my apartment, feeling the weight. I read the article and unmistakable rattling echoes under the words. My heart hurts. All is not well. The chains are not only on me, but on the world.

Clanking and whispers. What good can an easily-tired introvert do?

I can pray. Love and pray. For the children, for people who can go and give homes and food and water and love. For the strength to do something myself.

Amid the whispers and rattling, I wish I had one of those awesome magic swords like in the stories I love.  High King Peter’s Rhindon. The Sword of Griffyndor. Frodo’s Sting. Arthur’s Excalibur.  With it, I would go to work breaking the chains that bind, myself, the children, the world.

Clank, rattle. Those swords don’t exist.

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Then, suddenly, surprising me, my thoughts change. A real sword breaks a chain, out of the blue.  Snap!

“Take up the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Eph 6:17)

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Jesus answered Satan’s temptations with scripture as he fasted in the desert (Luke 4:1-13). So today, I pray Ephesians 1:16-23 for you, me, and the world:

That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give us a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of our hearts enlightened, that we may know what is the hope to which he has called us, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Jesus, may we live the power of love you have given us. May we hear the sound of chains breaking.

***

In gratitude today for…

The Word of God and the words of Ephesians.

The bible found in the garbage by one of the Ethiopian children, and his ability to read it and share the Word with others. A person threw away the Word of God and God used it!

For the YWAM team who visited the children and brought help. For the photographer who makes these young faces real and present to me thousands of miles away.

God’s faithfulness as I wrestle with words to write.

Tim Dearborn’s sermon of hope yesterday.

Advent wreath making at Holiday Magic.

Reconnecting with my friend Amy.

Watching young Jack create a aluminum foil suit of armor so he can play High King Peter.

Music, especially “Of the Father’s Love Begotten.”

holy experience


Nov 29 2010

Practicing Resurrection

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My immersion in Eugene Peterson’s books continued this past week with Practicing Resurrection. Alongside Answering God, it is one of his finest, and a great introduction to the lovely way his theology of God meshes with his theology of prayer and church and intimacy and God-human relationship, using Ephesians as the starting text.

Reading the book was more like having a series of conversations about life and faith with Peterson in front of a fire on a winter’s evening, drinking hot chocolate, all the while attentively reflecting on Paul’s text.  Gentle, yet direct, encouraging, yet challenging, he shares his love for Jesus and writes of subjects close to his heart. His words spurred me on to pray for and love others, more and more.

In fact, by the end of the book, I was even more convinced that loving and praying, and pursuing a life that cultivates loving and praying (not as abstractions, but loving real people and allowing my heart to break in prayer for concrete situations) is the best way to live.  Over the next few posts, I will be sharing more about this.

The book also confirmed a little desire that has been growing in me for awhile: to memorize an entire book of the bible.  As I’ve been slowly recovering the sacredness of words this past year, my love of scripture has been rekindled. Encouraged by Ann Voscamp at A Holy Experience to create a memory book, and then catching Peterson’s own love for Ephesians, I started last week.

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Memorizing does not take much daily time–20 minutes of re-reading the verses each day is enough to let the verses sink in deeply. And, memorizing gives me permission (and that is key!) to spend a week on the same verses, rather than move to new ones each day.  The focus is now on the verses, not on the scripture reading plan!

Memorizing is also a natural partner to the ancient Christian practice of lectio divina (Latin for divine reading), a centuries old way of reading and praying scripture (here is an intro). The movements of lectio divina are often described as a meal: reading the verses is eating, meditating on them is chewing, praying them is digestion, and contemplating them is that lovely full feeling after a good meal–and the words (the Word) are now nourishing our very being. Memorizing fits well into the reading stage and is closer to what Christians would have done in earlier times.

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If you are interested in making your own memory book, an example is here. Here is a lovely reflection on memorization as well as lots of suggestions.

If you’ve never memorized scripture, then start with a verse or two (and see how easy it is!)  Here is a great musical version of Philippians 4:6-7. I guarantee you will have the verses memorized by the end of the video!

***

Thankful today for…

“the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us (drenched us!) in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” (Eph 1:3)

Scripture and the written witness of Christians centuries ago to the presence and power of Christ in their lives.

Eugene Peterson’s books and the privilege of this time to immerse myself in them.

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A wonderful thanksgiving feast with dear friends.

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Wind swept views.

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Friendship…over time and experiences and years of conversation, grateful for the knowing and the being known.

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My godson Ben.

holy experience




Nov 8 2010

Doing Scales

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Every Friday was painful. Literally.

Band-aids covered my fingers and the shaking in my voice went to the tips of my toes. Hardly any of the strings rang clearly and my voice was a whisper.

The only comfort was everyone had their moment in front of Miss Samuelson’s guitar class.  I practiced on the guitar until my fingers were red and hurt so bad I cried. I practiced an hour everyday in class and then more in the evening, just to perform Leaving on a Jet Plane or Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, with some shred left of my 7th grade dignity.

I practiced as I had never practiced before.

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Weeks and weeks passed. The pain gradually diminished and my fingers did not agonize over every chord change and I learned to sing alone.

I kept singing after that year, but the guitar grew dusty until I went to college and discovered God not only enjoyed organ hymns and choir music, but also guitar praise choruses.  And I finally was thankful for the band-aids and shaking, as I learned to worship and lead others in singing.

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Practicing has become an important concept for me.  Other life experiences made me think a person either has a skill or doesn’t, and there really isn’t much that can be done.  But it simply isn’t true. We can practice.

And even more important.  We can fail. Put band-aids on our fingers or our hearts, and get back to practicing.

“The ambitions we have will become the stories we live.  If you want to know what a person’s story is about, just ask them what they want.” (Donald Miller)

What do you want, enough to practice over and over, enough to risk failure, enough to walk through some discomfort?

God invites us to practice with the Holy Spirit.  Doing scales each day in prayer and God’s Word, playing the pieces of our lives–choices, conversations, relationships, work, griefs, hopes, pain. We can learn over time and with the Spirit to play them with less fear, with more love and trust. Maybe even with gratitude.  The goal is not a perfect grade, but a life sung in worship to the glory of God and for the sake of others.

And the best promise of God’s grace and hope:

I so often miss the notes and still God carries the tune.

In gratitude for…

Life with less screen time, growing more comfortable with silent solitude, so thankful for focus and renewed creativity.

An interview for a dream position at a dream school.

Delightful lunches and encouraging conversations with friends.

Getting caught up in the Story this week and finding a spark for evangelism growing in my heart.

Three adults and two children singing “In the Lord I’ll be ever thankful” in the car to calm the twinfants’ chorus of crying.  A choir could never sound as beautiful.

Spending a delightful hour with my young friend Jack, buzzing down the aisles of Costco, talking and laughing.

holy experience


Nov 1 2010

Word Whisperer

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I worry this morning that pursuing a contemplative life is merely a mask for my own lack of stamina, my inability to exist joyfully at the full throttle pace of this society.

“You could accomplish so much more…” promises a familiar inner voice.

So I take off the mask and pray with Paul, “Lord, may your power be made perfect in weakness.”

Outside, the hummingbirds buzz among the bare branches and finches do leaf impersonations, occasionally fluttering the rain off their wings, and I know if I went fast or did more at once, I would not see them. I might miss them completely, and never know what I was missing, this sharing of a quiet dawn with the rain, birds, the grey cloudy city in the distance.

And so again I choose to do one task at a time, listen to one story at a time, write one word at a time and let the sentences come.

Words and stories are timid creatures. They often skamper away under the pressure to reveal too much, too fast.  So I whisper to them and wait.

In gratitude for slowing down…

Hearing the different rhythms of rain on the roof

A roof and warmth, things I forget to appreciate when life goes too fast

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Birds and other creatures that visit my balcony

Friends who saw me walking and slowed down, giving me a ride to church

Unrushed conversation twice around Green Lake

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Seeing a Great Heron asleep in a tree! (Opps! I woke him up!)

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Noticing rain drops on flowers that looking like ballerinas

Hours of games with adult-friends and kid-friends

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Drinking in the brilliance of autumn

Space to weep over the pain in young adult lives and to pray, “Lord, have mercy!” (Currently reading Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults)

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Celebrating a 4th birthday with my beautiful blue-eyed friend

Smiling at people while out walking, and seeing their face become as bright as the sun

holy experience


Oct 25 2010

40 Days

“The wind is blowing away the leaves.  I can see more of the bus barn, a field of yellow, and trucks like little toys coming and going.  They must use the parking lot to practice backing up because the semi’s do it over and over, the beep-beep warning a distant refrain under John Dowland lute music on Pandora.  If not for practice, then it must be a window into a level of transit hell where truck drivers must park exactly between the lines, and do it over and over till they get it right. As I watch yet another attempt, the fireplace rumbles and puffs, adding a soft percussive line, and occasionally a wind gust flutes across the chimney, blowing a deep under note.”

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On October 10th, I embarked on a 40 day experiment: no TV shows or movies.

While my media ingestion habits were not extreme, I found that the time I spent was affecting time in other activities: reading books, writing, engaging in conversation.  Passively watching media was an easy way to fill time when I was tired or when I didn’t know exactly what else to do.  And, more troubling, I suspected that screen media was encroaching on my enjoyment of reading and stealing time from things I delight in doing, simply because watching pre-packaged stories requires much less effort.

Honestly, even with all the good reasons for limiting screen media, and new research about media and learning, the main reason I pulled the plug was a challenge God put to me:

“How badly do you want this contemplative life, Susan? Are you will to put forth the effort?”

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“Exactly what did you have in mind, God?”

I’ve been trying to craft a life that is conducive to praying while doing sustained academic reflection, and then sharing the fruit of that reflection in intensive writing.  While that has involved setting up a daily schedule and activities, I hadn’t dealt with reality of extended times of solitude yet. The biggest surprise for this introvert girl: long periods of unscheduled openness and being alone makes me twitch!

DSC_0078As the rhythm has settled in, I’ve found I love the idea of such a life, fear the reality of it, and fail at it daily.  Thus, I prayed, “Help God!” and God’s always-wise questions laid bare a number issues, TV being one of them.

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Gerald May, in Addiction and Grace, suggests that the way out of attachments is not to find a replacement attachment or addiction–something healthier, yet just as much an idol–but to sit in the spaciousness of what was once present, in all the scary vulnerable openness.

As the leaves fall, only bare branches remain.

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So I’ve been sitting with the spaciousness, rather than filling it. A few times I’ve walked, pacing laps around my apartment, clearly uncomfortable with the silence.  The desert monks from the 2nd century say, “Stay in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.”

Two weeks in, the results are becoming noticeable.  I no longer feel resistance toward paying attention to reading and writing. I feel more present to life in general and simply more joyful.

My own imagination seems to be dusting off spiders and cobwebs, sputtering a bit on the dust from disuse, and helping me to not only engage my life, but helping me find words to describe life.

So today, in gratitude…

3-D life

Imagination

For words, and that they show up when I wait patiently and attentively

Rich conversations with friends about life, God, faith and love

Falling leaves

Helicopter seeds blown in the wind

Determined hummingbirds flying fiercely against the gusts

Joy

Homemade muffins

And an inquiring Stellar Jay…Ah! such amazing blue!

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holy experience

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