Weekly Devotional: “Here I Am, Here You Are, Here We Are Together”

hereiam

“If you direct your heart rightly, you will stretch out your hands toward God . . .. You will forget your misery; you will remember it as waters that have passed away. And your life will be brighter than the noonday; its darkness will be like the morning . . ..”                                                                    – Job 11. 13, 16 & 17

 

Perhaps you do this, too. I subscribe to various e-newsletters. Some of them are spiritual and religious, some health-related, others news-oriented. Often the articles tout a number of things that will make your life better: 7 Ideas for Improving Your Workout, 5 Things in the Japanese Diet to Improve Your Weight Loss, The 10 Best Cities for Vacationing, 8 Ways to Pray, etc.

So, I thought I would try my hand at it today.

We are living in troubling times. It seems that violence and terrorism run rampant, global warming is becoming a reality, and attacking your opponent with unheard of name-calling seems to be the new way of running for public office. I could go on, but I won’t. You know what raises fear and anger in your soul.

So here are my “5 Ways to Weather the Storm.”

  1. When you awaken in the morning, before you do anything, take a deep breath and offer your thanks for sleep, the new day, and a new beginning, regardless of your present circumstances or whether you slept well or not. Scholars tell us that gratitude transforms our outlook on life, calms our anxious hearts, and gives us hope.
  1. Some time in the morning hours, stop what you are doing and spend five minutes, yes, that’s right, just five minutes, in silence. Pay attention to your breathing. If you    pray, offer a prayer of praise and gratitude to God for that present moment.
  1. At noontime, take a break. After lunch, for example, take a walk, listen to inspirational music, just listen, don’t do anything, call a friend to say “hello,” write a note to someone you miss, or read a poem. Better yet, write a poem. Taking a break from work can energize you for the rest of your day.
  1. At home in the evening, make a conscious effort to read something meaningful. Instead of turning on the television or reading something work-related, read               something that lifts your spirit, causes you to think deeply, and inspires you to dream. Reading can help slow you down so that you can get ready for bed and rest.
  1. Before you drift off to sleep, take a moment to reflect on your day. Name to yourself the five things for which you are most grateful. Then thank God for all the gifts. This can help you go to sleep and rest well.

Oh, yes, one more thing. If you wake up in the middle of the night, I suggest you lie still in bed, take a few deep breaths, relax your body, and then repeat this mantra, “Here I am, here You are, here we are together.” This is thanks to Brian McLaren who suggested it as a middle-of-the-night prayer in his book, Naked Spirituality.

I believe that if you were to follow these practices you would find yourself more peaceful, more joyful, and more confident. By “directing your heart rightly, you will stretch out your hands toward God,” and you will discover that “your life will be brighter than the noonday; its darkness will be like the morning.” Now if I can only heed my own advice.

Holy One, help me to stretch out my hands toward You every day. Then draw me close to you so that I may dwell in Your Light. Amen.

 

 

Weekly Devotional: ‘Whosoever’ Means You, Me, All of Us

OnesWeLoveJuneImageYes, God so loved the world so as to give the Only Begotten One, that whosoever believes may not perish but have eternal life.                                                                                           -John 3:16

Just this last weekend in the United States, many people, churches and faith communities celebrated Pride, as well as the first anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Marriage Equality. It is stunning to consider how much has changed for the LGBTQ community, and in fact, for everyone in this country, since the military policy known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was overturned by legislation on September 20, 2011. Now, in only five years’ time, lesbian and gay people can legally marry in all 50 states.

Of course, there is change in other places of the world as well, particularly when the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis I, has stated that Christians should apologize to gay people.

I realize that many people feel that the Pope has not gone far enough, but when you consider that the church is more than 2000 years old and that changes do not come easily to an organization so entrenched in its ways, the steps that this Pope is taking for LGBTQ people is nothing short of amazing.

And yet, I recently spoke with a woman who is contemplating marriage. This should be among the most joyful considerations of her life, and yet her family is unsupportive of her marriage to her lesbian companion of several years. It is hard for me to grasp how parents who promised to love their children equally can now relegate a daughter to second-class citizenship, call into question the authenticity of this love and covenant they want to make, and can even suggest that this action, committing before God to love someone for life, might result in an eternity spent in hell. The sorrow on both sides of this argument is immense, and I am certain that both sides are calling down God from heaven to side with them.

And all I can think about is that one word, “whosoever.” As in, “Yes, God so loved the world so as to give the Only Begotten One, that whosoever believes may not perish but have eternal life.” Whosoever. There are no qualifications in this statement other than that we believe, which is to actually say, that we trust. It is to say that we trust God with our lives on both sides of the grave. And I know that this woman and her partner trust the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind and strength and that they love their neighbors as they love themselves.

Hmmm, sounds to me like they are being and doing exactly as Jesus taught. So, I say, take your blessings and affirmations where you can find them, among friends and family of choice, and then trust this God who loves you and whom you love. And trust that your lives as a married couple will not only be legal in this country, but will also be blessed by our God who loves you exactly as you were created to be.

 Holy One, bless us all, on whatever side we find ourselves, so that we might be a blessing to the “whosoevers” of this world, that You happen to love. Amen.

Weekly Devotional: The True Talisman

truth“ . . . you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”                                                                                          – John 8. 32

In the eighth chapter of the Gospel According to John, Jesus is speaking with some people who have faithfully followed his teachings. He tells them that if they continue “in his word,” then they will be his disciples. Then Jesus says, “you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.”

There are some people who believe that the “word” that Jesus speaks about in chapter eight are the words of scripture that are the infallible, inerrant word of God. In other words, that scripture is set in stone. Others, and I include myself in this group, believe that the “word of God” is a living word, and that God is still speaking in and through our world, our lives, our culture, and that scripture is best understood in this ever-changing context. So, then, what are we to say about “truth?”

I have come to believe that “truth” as Jesus speaks of it in this verse is discovered through a faithful following of the teachings of Jesus. In short, we are to love God with heart, soul, mind and strength and our neighbors as ourselves.” It seems to me that this is the talisman, (anything whose presence exercises a remarkable or powerful influence on human feelings or actions.)

Consider what our current political climate might be like if Christians, non-Christians, and even people of no faith, used just the last phrase of Jesus’ understanding of the greatest commandment to govern our actions and conversation. Moreover, what if we carefully considered the words of our political candidates and how they reflect an understanding of loving your neighbor, even your political-opponent neighbor? What would happen if we listened carefully to the words of our political candidates and measured the “truth” of their statements? Not “truth” based on what we want to hear, but actual truth.

Of course, we might also need to measure our own words and actions. In his book, The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz, lists as the first agreement, “Be Impeccable With Your Word. Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.”

I wonder if our commitment to speaking in this way might change our world. What if we measured and evaluated our words and the words of our political candidates using Jesus’ words and his instruction to live in his word by loving God and neighbor? Perhaps to do so would mean that we would discover what freedom is really all about. Freedom: to be free from easy judgment, to be free from vitriol and ugliness, to be free from lies and half-truths, to be free.

Holy One, I need you now. I need Your Presence, Your Spirit, Your Love to course through my life, my actions and my words. Show me the way. Amen.

Weekly Devotional: Amid our Grief, May We Become Instruments of Peace and Love

hopepainAs with a deadly wound in my body, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me continually, “Where is your God?”

– Psalm 42. 10

In the wake of the deadly shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, it seems that the assigned Psalm for this Sunday, June 19, is prophetic. Surely there are many people who ask asking, “Where is your God?” And why not? Forty-nine beautiful young people were killed, execution style, by a madman wielding a semi-automatic weapon. Forty-nine people were enjoying being in the midst their community and suddenly they were gone. It is confounding to think that in our society today that this kind of uncontrolled, rampant violence can still exist.

So, how do we, who count ourselves people of faith, respond when people ask, “Where is your God?” I’m not sure I have answers as to why this kind of senseless violence continues to occur in our society, but I do believe that we can see God in the midst of us even as we face the profound loss, sorrow, grief and resultant fear from this violent event.

Surely God was present in the lives of those who risked their own lives to protect others, help them escape and the heroic efforts by patrons of the club to help those who were injured get the help they needed. God is present with those doctors, nurses and other medical personnel who are caring for those recovering from their wounds. I believe God was and continues to be present in the hundreds of thousands of people who have gathered for vigils, prayer services and rallies to honor the lives of those who died, pray for those who are recovering, and give thanks for first responders.

I firmly believe that God is moving among people who, though perhaps fearful of the possibility of other terrorist and hate-crime events, choose to step out of their homes and offices to gather and stand together against anything that would hinder our freedom. And God, our God of many names, is with all of those who are committed to building bridges between people of varying faiths and of no faith so that peace may prevail upon the face of the earth.

And God is certainly with Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut who filibustered this week in the United State Senate to call for reasonable and sensible changes in our gun laws that will help to hinder those who would use weapons of violence against innocent people. In short, God is at work in our world in and through each of us.

I also believe that God often uses the least likely people of our world to bring about the greatest changes for good. In past assaults, we’ve seen children, African American people participating in a Bible Study, and now a Latino, Latina gathering of the LGBTQ community and their allies, who have been the victims. The scriptures tell us that God loves the least, the last, the lost and the lonely. God has a particular affinity for those at the margins of society. And though it is certain in my mind that God did not cause this violence and bloodshed, God will work in and through this tragedy to do God’s good work in the world.

And I, for one, believe that because of that, we can join with the song of the palmist who ends Psalm 42 singing, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise God, my help and my God.” Let us not just “hope in God,” but let us also join God in bringing about change in our world, loving our neighbors and living with courage and resolve. May it be so.

Holy One, I have no words for all that has happened in recent days. My heart withers within me and tears are my food. Still, I will praise you. Still I will hope in you. Give me courage to do all I can to bring an end to this kind of hate and violence. Amen.

Weekly Devotional: Growing Your Soul — Outside

outdoorsLook how the wild flowers grow!                  –Luke 12. 27 (CEV)

I have recently started participating in a Tai Chi class, and this week our teacher scheduled our class for the Valley House Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden. The Valley House is located off of Spring Valley Road in north Dallas, and it is an oasis in the midst of a busy city. As we began our practice, our teacher, Janna Whitton, explained that practicing Tai Chi outside is the ancient way of practicing. She said that there was just something very special about being outside, and she was right. There we were on a gravel path in the midst of a beautiful garden. There were all types of trees, flowers and plants. Among the foliage we saw hummingbirds, doves and could hear the chirping of cardinals as we went through our movements in silence. It was exhilarating.

As we practiced, I couldn’t help but think of a quote from the book, Living Prayer, by Robert Benson, that we are currently reading and discussing as part of our current New Church Book Study. He writes: “But I belong. I belong because the Silence itself has drawn me. I belong because my hunger for prayer has brought me in search of places where nothing else matters, at least for a while.” There we were, in the middle of a garden, and I knew in that place, as least for a while, that I belonged to the One who is called our Creator.”

We are currently living in a challenging time. Our country is divided by political beliefs. The world is afire with war and bombings. Our senses are inundated each day by a cacophony of noise. We sit at desks trying to pound out a living, so that we can go home, collapse into bed, and then get up and start all over again. We are attached to our electronic devices in ways that eliminate quiet observation of what is around us and interferes with any deep connection with others as we remain transfixed by lit up screens. A few among us have discovered that gardening is a cure for what ails us. Yet, for the most part, we live our lives indoors without any connection to the natural world. Is it any wonder that we are experiencing a global environmental crisis?

I have often thought that I need to spend my time writing blogs and devotionals that are more like some that my colleagues write: in your face, calling out some injustice in our world, calling forth our commitment to rally and respond, protest and politic. Yet, I have come to a place where I believe the most radical thing I can write, the most life-transforming thing I can offer to you in these few words is to encourage you to grow your soul, to pause in the busyness of your living and find your way outside. So, I encourage you to do this, go outside, not just on weekends and vacations, but daily, weekly, so that you might discover how the wild flowers grow, and so grow ever closer to the One that gives them—and you—life.

Holy One, help me in the busyness of my day to step outside, to observe how the wild flowers grow and to learn again that I am a part of your creation, that I belong to You. Amen.

 

Weekly Devotional: The Joy from Silence

silencejoyFor God alone my soul waits in silence; from God comes my salvation.                                                                                                                     — Psalm 62.1

I have had an interesting experience the last couple of weeks. I have found myself feeling deeply and profoundly joyful. As I experienced this joy multiple times throughout the day, I began to wonder what was going on in my life that has brought me to this place.

Part of it may be our Pentecost Book Study, during which we have been reading and discussing Robert Benson’s book, Living Prayer. So, following a suggestion from the book, I have tried to become aware of God’s presence throughout the day by pausing for a moment following the practice of the Benedictine Liturgy of the Divine Office. This practice calls for prayer at 12:00 midnight, 3:00 a.m., 6:00 a.m., 9:00 a.m. 12:00 noon, 3:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. I have set my phone clock to chime at those hours (okay, well not at midnight and 3:00 a.m. for the sake of my family) as a reminder to stop and think about God, offer a quiet prayer and take a deep breath.

I believe this has certainly added to my sense of well-being, but I believe there is one other thing that has helped. Over the last two weeks, my life has been rather busy. Consequently, I have not been watching much television. I have, because of this, quit paying much attention to the presidential campaign and the daily news. My life, in short, has been busy, but has also become more centered in silence.

All combined, it’s not a bad place to be. Yes, I am still committed to being an informed citizen, working for justice and facing the challenges of our days. Still, when that kind of commitment is paired with spending silent time in the presence of God, well, how can someone help but be filled with a sense of goodwill and even profound joy.

I invite you to find ways to practice being silent: silencing your mind and heart, unplugging from the things that are keeping you anxious and fearful. Then, perhaps you and I both can be the people who are grounded in the song of the Psalmist who sings, “For God alone, my soul waits in silence.” Why? Because “from God alone, comes my salvation.” May it be so.

Holy One, come to me once again. Silence my mind and my heart so that I may be open to hear your voice. Amen.

Weekly Devotional: Listening to the Spirit of Truth

Holy-SpiritJesus continued saying, “When the Spirit of Truth comes, She will guide you into all the truth; . . .”    – John 16. 13

Last Sunday at New Church– Chiesa Nuova UCC here in Dallas, Texas—we spent some time reflecting on the scripture passage from where the quote above emerges. As this new week began, and I was pelted with all the news about the current political campaign, I couldn’t help but remember that verse about “truth.” Of course, the writer of the Gospel of John, speaking about the “Spirit of Truth” is using that term interchangeably with the term, “Holy Spirit.” So, then the verse reads something like, “When the Holy Spirit comes to us, the thing we can count on is that, She will guide us into all the truth.”

So, I began to consider the current political climate, filled as it is with name-calling and ugliness, pledges, and promises. I then began to think about what I know about our current culture, that we are prone to surround ourselves with people who think and look and act like we do. What that means is that whenever anyone puts forth a different point of view we simply “un-friend,” “un-follow” or “delete.” And so, we are only hearing our point of view and that is not necessarily a good thing. If that is true then we cannot possibly have the full picture of what is happening in our world, much less find the truth.

What if, instead, we made a commitment to try our best to seek the truth, asking the Holy Spirit to guide us, as Jesus said that She would? What if we challenged our own biased thinking by listening to different sources for our information and asking more questions of all sources? What if we then actually listened, listened intently, listened with an open heart, listened discerningly?

I don’t know about you, but I simply must find a different way to get through the next few months rather than being angry and stewing over what this or that candidate has said. I don’t want to live an angry and fear-filled life, I don’t think you do either, and I certainly don’t think that is how God would have us live.

So, whether you are a Democrat, Republican, member of another party, or you are planning to vote for a yet unnamed candidate, join me, won’t you? Let us faithfully call upon the Holy Spirit to guide us into the truth so that when the day of voting comes we will make the best possible decision that we can. Then, regardless of the outcome, let us trust that our God will be with us as we step into the future.

Holy One, as our hearts are troubled with the circumstances of the current election cycle, help us set aside our anger and fears, and to seek Your peace and presence. Help us to hear clearly what it is You have to say to us. Send Your Spirit upon us, once again, that we may discover Your truth at work in our world. Amen.