Hallelujah

I recently listened to this rendition of Leonard Cohen’s song “Hallelujah”, performed by opera singer Andre Bocelli and his 8 year old daughter. You can watch it here.

This Leonard Cohen song, released in 1984, rose in popularity in the last few years. Have you listened to the lyrics? I have found them somewhat confusing.

Cohen seems to be talking about King David, the ancient king of Israel during their golden age. About the king’s sense of emptiness and in desiring to feel again, touching someone else’s wife, bringing chaos, pain, loss.

Cohen intersperses his verses with repeated singing of “Hallelujah”. Now the word “hallelujah”, according to the online dictionary, is “an expression of worship or rejoicing.” Hallelujah originates from the Hebrew hallĕlūyāh meaning ‘praise ye the Lord’. King David was known as a godly king for the most part, a king who was also a poet and wrote many songs of worship and praise to God. The dissonance is strong as David acknowledges in Cohen’s lyrics the baffling love for God and God’s ways, yet straying from that love and experiencing how his life “all went wrong” after that. Here are the song lyrics.

Hallelujah

Leonard Cohen

Now, I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do you?
It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew ya
She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

You say I took the name in vain
I don’t even know the name
But if I did, well really, what’s it to you?
There’s a blaze of light in every word
It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah,Hallelujah

What is Coehan trying to say? At first glance, I was not sure.

But upon a closer reading of the lyrics, what comes to me is that the “cold and lonely”, and “broken” condition Cohen describes brings one face to face with loss, grief. Perhaps this is a lament of King David’s – listing off of what is wrong with his life.

And then “Hallelujah.” Singing praises to God. Is that Cohen’s intent? I am not sure. I don’t know enough about him or the writing of his song. Upon doing a little internet research, I found that Cohen, who faced a “tragic early death” had a Jewish background, and there is speculation that “the song reflects both Cohen’s struggles with faith and tests of faith inflicted upon the Jewish people. However, it’s unknown whether or not this was intentional on Cohen’s part. Most music theorists presume that the lyrics are meant to be more open-ended.” https://spinditty.com/genres/The-Origin-and-History-of-the-Song-Hallelujah

Upon reflecting further, I am reminded that there is a cycle of life from birth, growth, flourishing, fruitfulness, withering and death we see in nature, as well as in the human experience. When we are growing and fruitful and flourishing, it is easy to sing “Hallelujah” and praise God. But when one gets to withering aspects of life and facing the death of dreams, relationships, or even self, one has the opportunity to take stock, and look up, and we can then see that God has been there all along. But we haven’t been paying attention.

Perhaps we are able to say “Hallelujah” before God even when brokenness is all we have. We are bringing our broken selves before God as King David did, and looking for something….something only God can do. We hope this is not the end of the story. The remains of plants, leaves, creatures, slowly, over time and in the right conditions reform to create rich soil in which new life can begin. Can we also experience new life after brokenness?

Reflection:

We as human beings are collectively, some more than others, going through a period of loss and grief as we are continuing to experience, on some level, a world-wide, unprecedented in our lifetimes, pandemic. What might we be invited to let go of, to shed, to surrender? When might we experience new life; the new thing we can’t do on our own; the new things we look to God for? Can we look up and say “Hallelujah, God is with us?” Even during this time? Even now when our lived experience is uncertain as the pandemic seems to be abating in some places in the world, but not in others?

When God is Silent, Part 2

Photo by Maria Orlova on Pexels.com

In my previous blog I referenced the experience of God’s silence, and how it has been described by several Christian writers in the past and present. You can find it here https://wordsfromasparrow.wordpress.com/2021/02/04/when-god-is-silent/

Another idea to bring into this discussion is that these times of God’s silence are important in our Christian journey. They serve a purpose if we are willing to go there.

The purpose of the spiritual journey, the journey of transformation, has been described as “the process of detaching from everything that is keeping me from attaching fully to God alone.” — Larry Crabb

St. John of the Cross, who coined the term “dark night of the soul”, wrote that “the dark night is God’s best gift to you, intended for your liberation, freeing you from your ideas about God, your fears about God, your attachment to all benefits you have been promised for believing in God and your devotion to the spiritual practices that are suppose to make you feel close to God…all of these are substitutes for God.”

Ignatious of Loyola (1491-1556) used the term “indifference” to describe this detachment. He encouraged becoming indifferent to anything but the will of God, leading a person ultimately to “spiritual freedom” and “freedom to say yes to God and the invitations from God”. The opposite would be “disordered love” or “disordered attachments” which would be anything that keeps us from saying yes to God, keeping us from a committed relationship with God.

So, it seems that if we are willing to see God’s silence as an invitation to an inner journey, we could benefit from this exploration of our possible “disordered attachments” so we can “detach” from them, giving ourselves more fully to trusting in God.

When I first learned of these ideas, I had already experienced several “dark nights of the soul”, and they were indeed painful, intense. At times, I thought I was losing my faith in God. What I realized, when I was finally willing to explore, was that I had some wrong ideas about God. My understanding of God became more clear, and my heart learned to trust again, bringing great joy and renewed confidence in God’s goodness and love.

I have found that, if I am honest, my heart strays, my trust in God weakens, and once again, I have opportunity to face this reality and face the reordering of my disordered attachments. This is not easy. Some of these attachments run deep. But recognizing that Christians throughout the centuries experienced something similar, and found purpose in the “dark night” or “wall experience”, that it could actually be helpful to their Christian life, has helped me recognize these times as indeed normative and necessary to the Christian life.

Reflection

Would you be willing to consider with God, what some of your “disordered attachments” might be? Could it be that God is offering you the opportunity to release some of those, so that you might experience more freedom to follow God’s leading? May you be assured of God’s love and mercy for you as you reflect on these things.

When God is Silent

His silence is a kiss,

His presence an embrace.

But now he is fading, fading.

And I am alone…

– Thomas Keating

I read this poem toward the end of 2020 in a daily devotional I receive by email. It reflected my experience of God in these last months. God has seemed distant, silent. The chaos of our world just keeps increasing.

The noise of angry voices fills the spaces of life; the ever widening distance between views and opinions on just about everything continues to grow. The conflicting information received from a variety of news sources creates the illusion of “knowing” yet the “knowing” keeps changing and shifting, pitting friend against friend, family member against family member.

And God is silent.

I have found myself struggling with a bit of depression. This is not normal for me. There have been a few mornings when I would have rather stayed in bed, but I forced myself up and out, and on to something productive. My instinct is to withdraw rather than engage during these turbulent times.

This experience of God’s perceived silence, or absence, has been described by the 16th century Carmelite friar and priest St. John of the Cross as “The Dark Night of the Soul”. More recently, Janet Hagberg and Robert Guelich in their book The Critical Journey (1989), identify this as a “stage of faith” they entitle as “The Wall”.

In their book, Hagberg and Guelich encourage us to look at these times of God’s silence as an invitation to go “deeper” with God. To enter into the wall or “dark night of the soul” is an inward journey. It is a time of withdrawing from our external world to examine what God might be saying to us. I have found these times being at “The Wall”, as I have experienced several in the past, to be difficult, scary, hard, lonely, yet eventually, as I have continued to work through them, times of clarifying, growing, and coming out with a deeper understanding of who God is, who I am, and a deeper love for God and others. Not that one can understand God fully. Simply put, they have been transformative. But I was not in charge of this change. I simply kept pursuing and clinging to God in spite of God’s silence, in spite of the darkness, not perfectly, not even consistently, but in time, being drawn back to seeking answers from God.

I recently ran across a phrase “trust with little understanding”, which echoes a scripture passage in Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path.”

These verses were critical during a time when my husband was laid off from his job due to an economic downturn. We had young elementary age children at that time, and I was filled with anxiety and fear about what our future would be. One day I ran across Proverbs 3:5-6 in a devotional reading, and I was stopped in my tracks. It became evident to me that my part was to trust, and God would do the rest. I realized trusting was a decision, and when, by God’s grace, I made that decision that day to trust God, I had a visceral feeling, like a key was turning in my heart, and my fear and anxiety left me. I was able to walk in that trust in the next days and weeks, and thankfully, my husband was able to find new employment.

Reflection

Consider Proverbs 3:5-6 for yourself. Are you experiencing a “dark night of the soul?” Do you feel like you are at a “wall” with God? Are you willing to go inward with God, to explore and discover what God might want to be saying to you? If so, you may also want to find a trusted friend or Christian spiritual director to talk with about your experience.

Photo by Maria Orlova on Pexels.com

A Musical Plea for Kindness

July 24, 2020, 12:20 am

I have been trying to sleep since 11 pm but to no avail.

I keep hearing bits and pieces of a song floating in my head.

Melody and words.

“Sing…gently…together.”

Yes, I am one of the 17,572 singers from 129 countries who participated in Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir 6. The video recording of Sing Gently was virtually premiered last Sunday. Did you see it? The sheer magnitude of attempting such a feat is mind boggling.

But the finished product was so worth the effort! Listening to the sound of 17,572 singers is powerful, stunning, beautiful, moving, other-worldly.

Mr. Whitacre composed this song not long after COVID-19 halted our lives as we knew it.  It speaks a message we need these days.  Here are the lyrics:

MAY WE SING TOGETHER, ALWAYS, MAY OUR VOICE BE SOFT, MAY OUR SINGING BE MUSIC FOR OTHERS, AND MAY IT KEEP OTHERS ALOFT.

SING GENTLY, ALWAYS, SING GENTLY AS ONE.

MAY WE STAND TOGETHER, ALWAYS, MAY OUR VOICE BE STRONG, MAY WE HEAR THE SINGING, ALWAYS, AND MAY WE ALWAYS SING ALONG.

SING GENTLY, ALWAYS, SING GENTLY AS ONE.

And here is a link to the video:

https://youtu.be/InULYfJHKI0

Tonight as I lay trying to sleep, I also visualized the scene in the video towards the end of the song where all the singer’s videos, separate at first, move towards each other. They look like they are forming continents, and eventually come together “as one”. You see that completed concept in the artwork of my featured image.

I imagined this song hovering over the earth, shimmering in its beauty; the rushing sound of many voices singing softly and gently, covering the earth as a prayer.

We need this healing vision today.  We need these inspiring words of hope. The reality of life in our country at this time is anything but “soft” and united “as one.”

Voices are loud, confusing, strident, tearing us apart. Actions are at times hurtful, violent, even murderous.

We need reminders that we are all part of each other – we are all part of the human race. We all need kindness and consideration, in order that we may all flourish.

Can we make music “for others?” Can we help “keep others aloft?”

As we “sing gently”, what would it take to “stand together always”, inviting others to “sing along?”

Will we pause the loud, argumentative streams of words to listen to this soft and gentle plea?  And if we do, will we take it to heart?

Postscript: After I wrote this blog, I searched for an appropriate image to illustrate it.  I found something, but it wasn’t exactly what I was looking for.  The next day, the image you see was posted on the Virtual Choir 6 facebook group – it is perfect!  Thank you so much for sharing it Alana!

Artwork credit: Alana Keener, fellow Virtual Choir 6 singer

In Times Like These, Lament

Lament: Prayer for when our spiritual journey with God is at a wall.

Today, we, along with most of humanity, are experiencing the unprecedented in our lifetime world-wide pandemic of COVID-19. There is confusion, fear, anxiety, loss of many kinds, sickness, sorrow, death and grief all around. We, the people of God have questions.  If we are honest, the big question is, “Where are you God, in all of this?”

What we as Christians are experiencing is described as “The Wall”; a stage in the life of faith described in the book “The Critical Journey”, by Janet O. Hagberg and Robert A. Guelich.

“The Wall” is often precipitated by a life or faith crisis that turns our world upside down and for the first time, our faith doesn’t seem to work. Our experience of life and our beliefs aren’t matching up. We have more questions than answers. Sometimes this stage is entered into gradually and at some point we realize that God seems far away and whatever we’ve been doing up to that point to connect with God isn’t working. Sometimes this experience happens suddenly.  The experience of “The Wall” often leads to uncertainty about God, everything we thought we knew about the life of faith, shame, fear, and an urge to give up. It can be a dark and lonely time.

Historic Christian writer St. John of the Cross (1542-1592), a Catholic Christian monk who spent his life in the service of Catholic Reform, described this experience of God’s absence as “The Dark Night of the Soul”.

Contemporary writer Lee Beach, in his article “A Spirituality of Exile: Responding to God’s Absence”, describes the sense of God’s absence as feeling like being in a spiritual exile.

A few Biblical individuals who experienced a deep sense of loss and seeming absence of God’s presence are Job, Naomi, and the Israelites when in Babylonian exile.

What we see in the life of the Biblical examples mentioned, as well as from St. John of the Cross, is that these individuals responded to God in a variety of ways.

Job grieved, and lamented to his friends, who provided poor counsel. Eventually Job approached God with his questions.  God listened (described through several chapters) and then responded to Job. (Book of Job)

Naomi and her family moved away from the land of Israel to care for their physical needs when famine struck God’s people in “the promised land.” After some years went by, which included many severe losses for Namoi, Naomi’s return to the land of Israel represents her return to God, even as she recognizes her bitterness  (“Call me Mara”). Eventually she recognizes God’s care for her through Ruth and Boaz, and her joy is restored. (Book of Ruth)

The Israelites cried out to God in lament, mourning their losses, asking for God’s help many times throughout their journey out of Egypt, as well as when they were exiled from their country many years later. At times they even blamed God for turning against them and allowing them to be overcome and taken into captivity. While in captivity in Babylon, they kept calling out to God to save them. 70 years later, God restored their land to them. (Lamentations, Psalms 44, 74, 89, 89, 102, 106, 137).

Most of these suffering people moved towards God in a new way, bringing their questions, confusion and pain to God. While they felt abandoned by God, they didn’t give up on God. In fact, their lament shows their determination to speak with God about their situation, question God about God’s action or lack thereof in regards to their plight.

The language of lament as found in scripture, offers a paradigm for engaging with God in the midst of our experience of God’s seeming absence. This language of lament is one of struggle, doubt, frustration with God, and wrestling with where God is in the midst of painful experiences.

There are a couple of movements in the lament prayers of the Israelites as described by Beach that can help us as we approach God in our times of spiritual exile, Dark Night of the Soul, or Wall experience:

  • An honest description of the problem.
  • A request for God to act on our behalf and remedy the problem.
  • Confession of Trust. Remembering what God has done in the past and confessing trust in God for the present.
  • Vow of Praise. Praising God in anticipation of God’s new redemption action in the future.

Theological Reflection is at the heart of lament.  When we sense God’s absence it can feel like an exilic experience. We no longer feel at home with God as our normal life experience has changed. We feel that we are “cast into a foreign land.”

Prayer and Reflection:

In times like these, I invite you to find a scripture of lament below to meditate on, perhaps daily, and then write your own prayers of lament as described above, following the example of Job, Naomi, the Israelites in exile, St. John of the Cross and countless Christians down through the ages, by continuing to call out to God. He is a God who is far away yet also very near. (Jeremiah 23:23)

Some scriptures of lament: Psalm 5-7, 10, 11 – 13, 17, 22, 28, 56, 60-64, 69-70, 74, 77, 90, 102, 120-121, 130, 140-143, Book of Lamentations

Photo credit: Charlotte Hedman, https://charhedman.wixsite.com/photography

A Firm Footing

Teach me to do your will,
    for you are my God.
May your gracious Spirit lead me forward
    on a firm footing.

Psalm 143:10 New Living Translation (NLT)

I have not written a blog post in quite a while.  Life began to happen and blogging fell off of my list of priorities.

Today as I read Psalm 143, I was struck by the unique times we are living in, and how so many Psalmists cry out to God in difficult circumstances.

Where I live, in the heart of America, we are just beginning to experience fall-out from the corona virus spreading to our country. And we are not accustomed, for the most part, to the kind of difficult circumstances it is causing around the world. Yet here we are, finding ourselves in a “world-wide pandemic.”

How is this pandemic affecting you today and as you look ahead to this week?

My daughter and I were to be traveling in the UK starting last week and for the rest of March – a trip of a lifetime.  After closely watching the WHO, CDC, and BBC websites, prayer, and some agony, we postponed our trip.  Now we are so thankful we did.  Each day, things shift, and more and more people are getting sick.  Countries are changing their travel policies, shutting borders; quarantines are in place, medical resources are stretched.

Even though the state I live in only had about 6 cases of the virus, and none in my town, the toilet paper shelf was bare last Friday when I went shopping at our local grocery store. Cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer were hard to find as well.  Thankfully, food was in good supply, as well as other necessities.

Last Friday, our state and county encouraged public gatherings of no more than 250 people.  Many large churches did not hold public services on Sunday, opting instead for services being live streamed with no one in attendance.  Now I am seeing suggestions of no more than 50 people in public gatherings.

The schools in our community are on spring break this week.  Many have announced an extra week of spring break while the administrators and teachers try to figure out how to finish the school year online if necessary.

Here in America, I did not sense much concern when the virus first broke out in China last December, yet only a few short months later, here we are, the world in a much different place; something that one could not have conceived of.

In light of all this, the phrases that stood out to me in Psalm 143 were the ones I bolded; “teach me to do you will”, and “lead me on a firm footing.” As a Christian, one who attempts to follow God’s will, what is God’s will in these uncertain times?  How can I find “a firm footing” as I take in the news, the reactions of others, the fear of the unknown, the shifting reality of life around the world as well as in my own community, the loss of “normal life for the foreseeable future”?

For someone who claims Christian beliefs, the words from an old song we used to sing “this world is not my home, I’m just passing through”, comes to mind.  A parable about a “wise man” spoken of in scripture who built his house on a rock, and the “foolish man” who built his house on sinking sand also floats through my thoughts.

How many of us are so comfortable and have put our security so heavily in things of this world, that we have forgotten our true home? How real is heaven?  How do we live so connected to Christ through his Spirit that we are constantly living in and through him? What is our “foundation” in life?

I have been instructed by an article that was posted on fb this past week, regarding the actions of Christians during plagues of past centuries.  You might find it interesting.  Instead of running and protecting themselves, they stayed and cared for the sick and dying, turning the tide of the growth of the plague, and bringing many to faith. They did not fear death.  They had a firm foundation in Christ. You can read it here.

https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/03/13/christianity-epidemics-2000-years-should-i-still-go-to-church-coronavirus/

I encourage you to sit with the entire Psalm 143 and listen for how God speaks to you.  Reflect honestly with God about what you notice.

What is my invitation from God in these times?  What is yours?  For those who call themselves God’s people, these times may be ones of self-correcting.  Repenting.  Common sense planning, and lots of washing hands with soap! Looking for where I can serve.  Love.  Help.  Pray for God’s help all around the world, to bring us all out of this distress we are experiencing around the world.

I close these thoughts with a quote:

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf. “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to do is decide what to do with the time that is given to us.” –J.R.R. Tolkein, The Fellowship of the Ring

Photo credit: Photo is by my talented cousin Charlotte Hedman. Check out her work on her website https://charhedman.wixsite.com/photography

 

 

 

 

 

Broken-hearted Joy

“Our hearts ache, but we have joy.”

How can people say they are experiencing joy when their hearts are breaking? These are two opposing emotions and seemingly impossible to coincide together in one person at the same time.

This phrase “Our hearts ache, but we have joy” comes from Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians 6:10, couched in his list of hardships endured by himself and his co-workers on their various missionary travels. It appears that the Christians in Corinth are having some struggles with holding to their faith in Christ because of a particular man among them and they are now mistrusting and doubting Paul and his teaching. Paul is urging them to continue to trust God and to trust himself as well. We learn this from phrases Paul interjects throughout this 2nd letter to the Corinthians, such as

“it is God who enables us, along with you, to stand firm for Christ” (1:21)
“the man who caused all the trouble hurt all of you more than he hurt me” (2:5)
“don’t team up with those who are unbelievers” (6:14)
“come back to God(5:20)

Paul longs for reconciliation, often expressing his love for them as in

“we want to work together with you” (1:24)
“I didn’t want to grieve you, but I wanted to let you know how much love I have for you” (2:4)
“you are in our hearts” (7:3)
“There is no lack of love on our part but you have withheld your love from us. I am asking you to respond as if you were my own children. Open your hearts to us!”(6:12)

Paul also explains himself and defends his authority, particularly in chapter 10, but “with the gentleness and kindness of Christ” (10:1).

“We are not like the many hucksters who preach for personal profit. We preach the Word of God with sincerity and with Christ’s authority, knowing that God is watching us” (2:17)

Among other things, Paul also corrects and encourages the Corinthians to “strengthen (them), not tear (them) down.” (13:5)

“Forgive and comfort” this person (who caused the problems) so he won’t be “overcome by discouragement…reaffirm your love for him”
“Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine” (13:5)

How can Paul have joy in the midst of this obviously complicated and difficult relational challenge among people he has brought to faith? He has labored, suffered and loved much. Now they are breaking his heart.

“Because of our great trust in God through Christ”, Paul reveals, he and his co-workers are confident that the ministry among the Corinthians was enabled by the Holy Spirit because it is the Spirit who “gives life.” (3:16)

Paul is looking beyond the situation to his trust in God through what Christ has done. He has experienced personally the power of the Holy Spirit in his own life and witnessed the power of the Holy Spirit giving “life” to many others through his ministry, particularly to these beloved believers in Corinth. Paul repeatedly points back to God’s work in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. This is where his hope is.

Reflection:
Dear friend, is your heart aching? I encourage you to reflect with God on 2 Corinthians Chapter 4. Paul attests to the power we have from God in spite of all our troubles. He describes it as a “light shining in our hearts” even though we often feel like “fragile clay jars” (4:7). Paul definitely was not ignoring the problems, but he wasn’t letting them rob him of his joy and confidence in God. May you find that true for yourself as well.

I end with Paul’s last words in this 2nd letter to the Corinthian believers,
“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (13:14)

Cultivating Quietness

Truly my soul silently waits for God. Psalm 62:1

My soul, wait silently before God alone; for my expectation is from Him. Psalm 62:5

In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength. Isaiah 30:15

Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him. Psalm 37:7

Finding silence and quietness in this day and age is a challenge.  So many things compete for our attention that we have to be intentional to cultivate silence. Yet finding a space where we can be alone, remove the technology, shut the door, and be silent before God is critical for our ability to abide in Christ.

Quoting from Andrew Murray in “Abiding in Christ”, “”It is a soul silent before God that is best prepared for knowing Jesus.”  He also writes,

“Quietness is blessing…Quietness is strength…Quietness is the source of highest activity – the secret of all true abiding in Christ. Cultivate quietness as a means to abiding in Christ and expect the ever-deepening quietness and calm of heaven in the soul as the fruit of abiding in Him.”

For much of my youth and early young adulthood I only sought God when I had a problem or disappointment. Periodically I would attempt more of a devotional life, but it usually dissipated when life was “good.” I wasn’t taught how to be silent with God and therefore did not receive the benefits from silence and waiting on God.  I forged a path through life based on what others thought or what I wanted, and asked God to bless it.

Through a series of several severe trials, I found myself progressing from angrily questioning God’s goodness and my desire to remain connected to God, to searching the scriptures to see if I had missed something. In my searching I realized I had some wrong ideas about God. By God’s grace, this opened my heart to see God’s provision for me and my perspective began to change.  Several subsequent losses found me surviving only by turning to God and spending time with God, particularly in the Psalms, listening for God’s words for me. God met me and I found answers to my questions, comfort for my fears, and a changing perspective to see that I was not in control, life was unpredictable, yet with God there was peace and hope.

My experience of God’s comfort and love during trials led me to wonder how I could continue to seek after God in times of joy and prosperity.  The journey since has not always been straight forward as I am prone to wander.  Yet I have found that somehow, when I take time to be silent before God on a regular basis, God is working mysteriously in me to bring about what Andrew Murray describes as, “the ever-deepening quietness and calm of heaven in the soul” making it more possible for me to abide in Christ throughout my day, even in the midst of difficulties.

So how to cultivate quietness with God?  Here are some practical suggestions.

  1. Look for a quiet space in your home, place of employment, or somewhere in nature. If you can’t find one, consider how you can create one.
  2. Be intentional about a time of day you go to that space.
  3. Start by spending a few minutes in silence with God before you go on to reading and reflecting on scripture or whatever devotional material you are using.  Expand that time of silence as you are able.
  4. In the silence, focus on God’s loving presence with you. Other thoughts may pop up.  Quietly acknowledge them and let them go.  If they are troubling thoughts, silently release them to God for God’s care and go back to focusing on God’s loving presence.
  5. If you are able to find a quiet space and time, yet continue to struggle with silence or troubling thoughts, consider reaching out to a trusted friend, pastor or Christian spiritual director for support.

 

Pruning

I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.  John 15:1-2

Recently I was given a copy of Andrew Murray’s devotional book entitled “Abiding in Christ”.  There are 31 brief chapters full of Murray’s rich reflections on the John 15:1-12 passage.  I’m not sure why I had never come across this book before since it was originally published in 1895!

In the past few weeks I have tried to read a chapter a day. Funny how sometimes real life provides reinforcement for the things God is emphasizing to me.

A few weeks earlier I had severely pruned a house plant that had become unusually tall. It started as a desk plant for my husband’s office probably 15 years ago.  This “Money Tree” was moved to our home nearly two years ago when my husband’s company relocated to a new building and there was no room in his office for this plant.

plant whole

The Money Tree occupied this corner in our home until we needed to move it to paint the room.  I researched on line how to prune this type of plant to make moving easier, and found that it was advised to prune only halfway down the plant, which is what I did, leaving the shortest stem whole.

For several weeks, the plant showed no new growth.  In fact, my daughter suggested I toss it out.  Then, last week we noticed little tiny green buds, and soon new growth popped out all over!   We were so excited!

plant growth 2

plant growth

plant growth whole

A gardener has two choices when fruit is not prolific, or not even evident in a plant; the plant can be pruned to see if more will come forth, or it can be pulled out.  I’m sure gardeners can explain scientifically why it is that a plant will do what ours did after it is pruned.  Pruning seems like the more desirable option.

In our lives, pruning feels like death at times.  It feels like loss.  It is painful.  Life as we know it has abruptly stopped.  This is where I was when I broke my leg almost exactly a year ago.  Life was reduced down to managing swelling and pain; then submitting to surgery in which  a plate and 8 screws were applied.  11 weeks of sitting on the couch or in a wheelchair followed after surgery.  Ambulation was difficult as I could put no weight on that leg.  I needed assistance to do the most basic things we all take for granted. All my plans were scrapped.

postsurgeryxray

So in my next blog post, I will be picking up my series, Scraps of Life, to continue that journey with you, focusing on the new growth that has come from this pruning.

Reflection

Perhaps you are in a season of pruning as well.  You are waiting, and waiting, and waiting. Are you experiencing pain, loss, frustration, anger, confusion, sorrow?  I invite you to view this season not as a waste, and not the end of the story.  Instead, see it as a time to go inward with God.  What does God want to reveal to you, and grow in you?

 

Arrest in the Garden

In the garden

in the middle of the night

Jesus rose from his wrestling prayer

with God,

these words on his lips,

 

“Not my will but yours be done.”

 

Moving through fear into love,

The battle was over.

 

Resolute, calm, facing towards his destiny,

he waited and watched

as tiny pinprick lights of torches grew larger,

a crescendo of swords clanking and hushed whispers,

footsteps approaching.

He stood to greet the unruly and armed crowd that had materialized

out of the darkness

in the garden.

 

Startled out of their deep slumber,

the disciples jumped up awkwardly,

rubbing sleep out of their fearful eyes,

blinded by the torchlight.

They watched in stunned silence.

A kiss.

A sword.

A rebuke.

Jesus, the only calm one in this scene,

is betrayed, arrested.

 

He did not resist.

He did not call out to His Heavenly Father to defend him.

Strengthened by love,

he gave himself up even more

than he already had.

 

He let the unfair actions against him play out

as the arrest took place

in the garden.

 

“Have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though He was God he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges, he took the humble position of a slave….he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal death on a cross.”

Philippians 2:5-8 NLT