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There used to be men (and women, I assume) called holy fools, perfectly ordinary (and often brilliant) people who faked idiocy so as to be daily humbled by the world. It was good for their spiritual lives, they felt. I am coming to grips with the place of foolishness in my own life — it’s not something I’ve chosen, but rather a facet of my being: I am a social idiot.

I was forced to confront this aspect of myself last weekend at a party. Surrounded by outgoing, extroverted folks, I grappled with a tongue roughly the size, shape and weight of a cast iron skillet. “Amazing!” I heard myself saying. “Wonderful!” I’m a writer. I ought to have facility with words. And I do, to some extent. That extent lying within the power of my mind and my fingers…not in the vast rolling pastures of speech. Add in a dash of shyness, and you’ve got a wallflower extraordinaire. Move over, Emily Dickinson. There’s a new weird, silent poetess in town.

All of this — coupled with a fascination for the sound and substance of words, which once caused me to mispronounce the word “full” in prayer — brings us to this: a sort of love poem, penned by a fool who may or may not be holy, but who certainly hopes for its salvific grace.

Pixilated,
besotted with love,
love coursing through blind alleys,
traffic circles, cul-de-sacs,
languishing in corners, deaf to
directionality, wholly lost in translation. I fish,
pull up old shoes, tin cans, frank inadequacies.
Brooks babble better.
Helpless, hopeless heart!
Could I crack you open and let
the depth of you spill! And yet.
There is a solace in silence, dim wisdom
in the fractured code, the blank flags,
the broken nibs and worn erasers.
I send up smoke signals,
too random to be cumulus,
received by God like an armful of roses.
Wordless. But heard.
I am a fool of grace
and God is with me.

The Lord is the shade at your right hand.
Psalm 121:5

In the heavens, God has pitched a tent for the sun.
Psalm 19:4

There’s been talk of potential life in outer space.

Life at the deepest levels of the sea.

But there’s another plane of life that seems the most mysterious, and that is the life-force in inner space, or the soul.

There’s a trend lately called “Hygge” which is the Danish notion of cozy conviviality. It’s a way of infusing life with comforts that make you feel at home wherever you are.

I’ve done that in the corner of my kitchen, putting a tiny lamp and candle onto a table so small, it’s not even big enough for a plate! I perch my coffee mug with its jaunty lid there, look out at the colorful flowers in the yard, and feel a sense of peace.

It made me wonder if there is such a thing as “Hygge for the Soul.”

Where do you feel most at home? Most yourself? For many of us, it involves looking at the beauty of nature in some way.

Of course, God created nature, not just as an adjunct to serve the needs of mankind – he also tends to nature as he takes care of us.

Pitching a tent for the sun has got to be like a production of Cirque du Soleil, on a universal scale!

Now, when he sculpted the sun, he made it capable of providing both wonderful warmth and searing sunburns.

When he crafted shade, he made it capable of providing relief from the heat and also clandestine cover for shady business.

The same one who created the gentle spring breeze also made hurricanes. It seems to me that in every powerful thing that can cause both life and destruction, God created a relief valve.

Just as there’s an eye in the middle of storms, it’s possible to find moments of repose, right where you are. It might be just a square foot of space in the corner of your kitchen, but now, it’s your own sacred sanctuary.

Life is hard. There’s no denying it. But during this Easter season, we are reminded that there is proof of the resurrection all around us.

Fact:
Friends will betray you
they will dine beside you
then sell you out for silver.
The road will always be uphill
and the load will nearly break you.
(Others can ease it, briefly,
but they cannot die for you.)
You will taste sweat, blood, bitter
liquid; your body will snap, sag,
breach and be broken. You will die,
ultimately, alone.

Fortunately, friend,
One has gone before
holding hope in his hands like a loaf of bread.
Even as you close your eyes
to all of this, you will open them again.
Like an Easter lily, you will wear white.
Like Easter morning, you will be born.

Better a dry crust with peace and quiet
   than a house full of feasting, with strife.
Proverbs 17:1

Even with the help of a kind-hearted friend, I was wiped out at the end of yard sale day.

They’d plow through the neat piles of clothes labeled with yellow sticky notes that listed the size and price. What size is this? They’d yell across the driveway. How much is this? I’d say, It’s on the label. Oh, they’d yell. Is this negotiable?

We were charging two dollars for a pair of Levi’s with the tag still on. They’d try their best to lean on us to take one dollar.

Really?

It wasn’t the physical exertion, though that can really take a toll. No, it was the energy it took to deal with a few of the people who’d left their manners at home, along with their wallets, apparently. One woman said, Oh, I forgot my purse at home. All I have is fifty cents for this scarf. Will you take it?

The first time I heard that one, I didn’t realize it was a technique to get a better deal. At the same yard sale, a man said he’d forgotten his money clip.

While nobody expects to get rich from the proceeds of a yard sale, I really didn’t expect to feel depleted at the end of the day. My friend had really done all the work, but just being there was wearing.

Why is it that the slightest hint of getting a deal brings out the worst in us?

It was the first – and only – time I’d ever participated in the block yard sale. Ever since then, I’ve reminded myself to consider this when I accept an invitation or take on an obligation: How will it make me feel? Do I really want to do this? Is it worth it?

That soul-draining day taught me something. If you don’t safeguard your own peace of mind, somebody will try to put a pricetag on it. Check your back for sticky notes, use the good sense God gave you, and keep on moving.

I knew not being in charge was going to be profoundly difficult.  But then again, so would being in charge.  You see we just spent a week cleaning out my Dad’s house.

Put me in charge, and I’d have a plan. And boy would it be a Plan with a Capital P.   Yep.  I’m just a bit type-A.  I’m not sure if everyone who is type-A is like me but I have a lot of type-A friends.  “This is how you should deal with it. Rent a dumpster. Put your foot down.  If you want it just show up and take it.”

Take a deep breath.  Let it out.

Four days we showed up to work.  Four days we watched sneaking and sniping and arguing.  “I made an appointment . . . there’s no other time I can do this . . .”

Take a deep breath.  Let it out.

For four days we sorted and packed and pitched.  We recycled and wondered what the heck is this?  And we shared stories.

We talked about the memories stirred by various objects.  We discussed our goof ball find of the day.  And we sat in the yard and shared lunch.  We sat in the sunshine and breathed deep.

I’m not going to lie.  It wasn’t all sunshine and happiness.  Some people live to create drama.  So we let them create it. Take a deep breath. Let it out.

Sure there were times I was tempted to speak my mind.  And I did occasionally tell people what to do when I needed help.

I still wouldn’t call myself patient, not by a long shot, but sometimes the most compassionate thing you can do is let the person who needs that sense of control be in charge.  No, they may not do it your way but be patient.  Breath in.  Let it out.

Walk gently.  Breathe deeply.

–SueBE

 

When my niece was just a tiny thing — four, maybe five — we went to Disneyland together. Spotting a cast member (that’s Disney-speak for “employee”) dressed up like Jack Sparrow from “The Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, surrounded by (mostly female) fans, Sami piped up, “Captain Jack has quite the entourage.” Of course we laughed. What child that age says “entourage”? But of course she was right.

The other day, a lady I met at church phoned me about a party she was hosting. “Bring your girlfriends!” she suggested. I found myself conjuring up a fantasy life for myself, one where “me and the girls” went places together (possibly even during the week), drank wine liberally, chatted about the latest twist on our must-see TV shows. This vision lasted all of three seconds. Then I found myself awkwardly explaining that this was not, in fact, my life. Unlike Captain Jack, I do not have “quite the entourage.”

My friends are long-term and loyal. And few. One of them has been my “BFF” since fifth grade. Another has seen me through 30 years of living — I was the first person she called after she had her first child. My sisters-in-law are fully sisters to me. Our closest “couple friends” are, and have always been, my brother and his wife, Jennifer (parents of the aforementioned Sami). I consider Ruth and SueBE, with whom I share this blog, some of dearest friends…and I have never met either in person. The friend I talk to most lives in Indianapolis. I live in Kansas.

I often think it would be nice to have an ebullient, enthusiastic pack of friends who wanted to go out into the world with me and just have fun. But I realize I was not built for such things. I’m a homebody. I prefer books to parties. Like Greta Garbo, I “vant to be alone.” And that’s okay. Having fewer friends doesn’t mean I prize them any less. In fact, I cling to them.

You know who did have “quite the entourage”? Jesus. Mounds of people followed him. But he designated just 12 as apostles. And of the 12, we hear mostly of a chosen few: Peter, John, James, Andrew. Even fewer actually have speaking roles in the Gospels. Mostly, it’s Peter, the lug-head, who says something profound followed immediately by something profoundly stupid. And yet Christ built a church on him.

Jesus accepts us as we are, introvert or extrovert, mystics and simpletons. But what’s beautiful is that we all have the opportunity to be close to him — as close as any human beings can possibly be and more so. Your relationship with him can be deeply intimate. So can mine. With Jesus, there’s no need for an entourage. You’ve got all you need in one person.

Human beings are such touchy-feely creatures. I think that’s why God gave us friends. Certainly, all of my friends have moved my spiritual journey along in wise and wonderful ways. They are, in a word, good people. They are of God. Maybe that’s not the litmus test for everybody’s friendships, but it is for mine. Maybe quality, not quantity, counts in the end. Anyway, I’m grateful. Thanks, friends.

And we really do need all three — power, love and self-discipline. 2-timothy

nitish-meena-37745The little boy was three-years-old, and, apparently, his job was to examine all the minutiae of life very carefully, like a pint-sized forensic scientist  – gum wrapper on floor, display of succotash by the register, even his own shoelaces. It came as no surprise that he’d meander very slowly, like a sloth on a speed bump, out the door of the grocery store.

We were stacked up behind him and his adoring mother with our carts, our own kids in tow, but we were patient. He looked around, he lingered, he investigated. All the while his mother looked at him adoringly, as if he had invented time itself. “Isn’t he something?” she asked the lady waiting behind her, who nodded graciously.

When you love someone, you find a way to overlook their faults. It never occurred to this young mother that everyone else might not find her toddler’s molasses-slow stride to be endearing. Those things didn’t even register in her mind.

There’s been a lot of discord in the world lately, with those of different viewpoints finding themselves at odds. Sometimes it seems people are acting like petulant children, not hearing anyone else’s voice at all. I’ve been deep in Scripture lately, seeking some solace.

The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride. Ecclesiastes 7:8 NIV

Keeping things in perspective, thinking about compassion and mercy.

You help them stay calm when trouble comes…

Every line of this Psalm gave me peace.

The Lord will not leave his people. He will not leave them without help.

Sometimes you find comfort in passages you’ve read a thousand times. Perhaps if we all read the Good Book and pray together, wherever we are, we’ll remember we’re all family.

Justice will return and bring fairness.  And those who want to do right will be there to see it. Psalm 94:13-15 ERV

The cross over my desk.

The cross over my desk. Yes, it is hung with a Christmas ornament hook and tape.

As we head into Lent, our Sunday school class is studying Christian symbolism. One of the first symbols that we studied was the Cross which is actually 400 different symbols.

In my mind, the cross has always been a comfort. Perhaps this was because I was raised by women who looked out for me both physically and spiritually.  They wore crosses and reminded me that God was always there for me, watching out for me, guiding me and listening to me.

I was surprised to learn that the Cross wasn’t used by Christians until the fourth century when crucifixion was outlawed and Christianity was legalized.  Until then, they cross, my cross, was a symbol of torture and execution.  Only the very worst criminals were crucified.  It was a symbol of shame.  And Christ, the Messiah, the Redeemer, had died on a cross.

Died.

Nailed up like a murderer.

Imagine what that had to feel like for His followers.  The shame and horror of seeing him hung up there, suffering and dying.  The self-recriminations – what could I have done differently?  Does this mean that all he preached, all that I’ve believed and hoped was . . . wrong?

The cross didn’t symbolize anything good until much, much later.

As we enter Lent, I’ve been thinking about what the cross means in the US today. Is it the signing of a loving Christ, drawing in those in need?  Calling the little children to him?  Because that’s what it means to me. As I pray, I can look at the cross and feel myself relax.  This is my refuge. My source of strength.

But is that how it feels to the transgender teen who is agonizing over what bathroom to use in school? Does it mean hope to refugees from war-torn countries?  Those who are just trying to reunite with brothers and sisters, children and spouses?

To many of these people it means judgement and recrimination.  It means despair and sparks fear.

Two thousand years and we’re right back where we started, but it isn’t where we have to be. The meaning of this powerful symbol has changed in the past.  It can change again in the future. It can truly become the Cross of Christ, drawing in those in need, calling to the children.

–SueBE

How I love our Pope! Did anyone expect such a firebrand? He stands with the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized. He stands with our Mother Earth. And this week, he made a pronouncement that’s sure to send conservatives into a lather: He said, essentially, that it is better to be an atheist than a hypocritical Catholic.

What’s a hypocritical Catholic? Let’s speculate. Perhaps it is a person who claims to follow Christ but does not welcome him in the form of immigrants. Perhaps it is a person who vows to respect all life, but doesn’t believe in providing help to those in need or protecting our planet from those who seek to plunder it for profit. Heck, maybe it’s me — I’m far from perfect. Whoever or whatever the hypocritical Catholic is, the Pope’s words are a challenge to us: Put your money where your mouth is. If you talk the talk, you better walk the walk. If you want to truly follow Christ, you better leave your ivory tower or diamond-encrusted cage and get down in the dirt with the least of God’s children.

I know several atheists. They are good people. They do good not because they believe in a theological or religious system, but because doing good makes sense to them. Because they want the world to be a better place. Even the most embittered atheists have to make moral choices. That they would make positive ones, without any spiritual model to back them up, is nothing short of wonderful.

And yet, supposedly Christian and Catholic people make bad choices all the time. I can think of several Catholics in government positions who think cutting health care, Medicare and assistance to the poor is a sound fiscal and moral idea. Sure, our country was founded on the separation of church and state. But if being a Christian Catholic is who you are at your core, it ought to drive everything you do, right?

Jesus was known for calling people out on uncomfortable realities. It seems Pope Francis is walking in his footsteps. That’s a very good thing.

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