Last Saturday I conducted a Rhythms of Grace retreat for my church. It was a wonderful day spent with godly women at a beautiful retreat center near Seattle. My most impacting impressions came from a discussion that developed around the transformative power of pain. Pain and death bring about changes in our lives that most of us would like to ignore. But often it is these difficult transitions that bring us closer to God and so we spent a lot of time talking about how we should celebrate these difficult times. One participant shared about how her business held a hat party for a woman who was having chemotherapy. What a neat idea! Another shared about how while a close friend was dying she had sat around with other close friends singing the woman’s favourite hymns. As she commented “I hope someone will do that for me.” Celebration is not just about the fun things of life. Evidently the Jews celebrated everything good and everything bad that happened to them and I think that we need to as well.
My reflections this last week have been a little scattered as I have been extremely busy getting ready for a Rhythms of Grace workshop at St Albans Episcopal church as well as finishing the liturgy for the MSA Seed Sampler and entertaining guests. And this morning we discovered there were ants in the printer out in our office – not something I wanted to deal with this morning & I hate to think what it did to my blood pressure.
I am reminded of how easily busyness can distract me from God’s pace for my life as I have run from place to place without time for thought or breathing space. It is relaxing just to sit down and write this (and get my mind off the ants).
In my morning Lenten reflections from Henri Nouwen I was impacted by the thought “We act as though we were just dropped down into creation and have to entertain ourselves until we die. But we are sent into the world by God, just as Jesus was.” All of us have a God given purpose and that purpose is not to please ourselves or to to fill in the empty hours of each day with busy activity, like I sometimes feel I am doing. Our purpose is to further God’s work in the world, to take the example of how Jesus lived and use it as a model for how we should live our own lives. The busier I am the harder it is for me to remember this and the more difficult it is to focus on what God wants me to do.
I best reminder of this over the last few days has come through the visit of my good friends Dennis and Heather Choate who were on the Mercy Ship with me back in the 1980s. About 3 years ago they moved to Pingliang, in Gansu province, China (near Mongolia) and are running a school for young people to learn English and computer skills. Their example has really impressed me. The way they have literally gone into the unknown reaches of China and through prayer and hard work started a school that is giving opportunity to people that would not have had a hope of getting a good job is remarkable. Their faith and commitment has been a great inspiration to me this week and has made me aware of how God is able to use all of us to make a difference in the world. We really do serve an incredible God.
I am not sure how it happened but the video that I uploaded the first week of lent for people to use as a tool for meditation seems to have disappeared. I love computers except when they drive me crazy.
So here so here is the video again. For those that may be looking at it for the first time let me assure you that this is a silent reflection so don’t expect music .
If you are interested in more reflections on lent you may want to visit the mustard seed journey blog if you have not already discovered it. This was set up specifically to reflect on lent and the brokenness of our world. Holy week (the week before Easter) we intend to put up some photos, reflections & other offerings that are contributed by those of you who read these blogs. We want to reflect on the last week of Jesus life in pictures and reflections so would welcome any contributions that you would like to make to help make this a meaningful season.
I just received an email from a shopping outlet headed “St Patrick did you a favour”. It then went on to describe how I could enjoy St Patrick’s day luck by shopping their sale. How sad when this is what St Patrick has come to mean for many people in our culture. For others it is nothing more than another opportunity to overindulge & drink themselves silly. I suppose this upsets me because I think the real St Patrick is such an example for us to live up to. Can you imagine – he was a slave in Ireland, managed to escape and then heard God call him back to the country as a missionary and in three decades the whole country was basically Christian and so began an incredible movement of God’s spirit that evangelized not just Ireland but Britain, Europe and some think parts of Russia as well. But it wasn’t always easy. Patrick was attacked, beaten and again enslaved. Yet through it all he gained an incredible sense of the presence of God. Meditate on that as you read this liturgy which has Patrick’s Breasplate woven through it. (The prayer is in bold)
We bind unto ourselves today the strong name of the trinity,
By invocation of the same, the Three in One and One in three.
We bind this day to us forever, by power of faith, Christ’s Incarnation;
His baptism in the Jordan River; his death on cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spiced tomb; His riding up the heavenly way;
his coming at the day of doom; We bind unto ourselves today.
We put on this day the armour of light
We cast off the works of darkness
We clothe ourselves with Christ
Christ behind us, Christ before us,
Christ beside us, Christ to win us,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath us, Christ above us,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love us,
Christ in mouth of friend & stranger
We wrap ourselves around with the belt of truth
We strap on the breastplate of righteousness
We take up the shield of faith
We shod our feet with the gospel of peace
We place the helmet of salvation on our heads
We clothe ourselves with Christ
We bind unto ourselves today, the power of God to hold and lead,
God’s eye to watch, God’s might to stay, God’s ear to harken to our need,
The wisdom of our God to teach, God’s hand to guide, and shield to ward,
The Word of God to give us speech, God’s heavenly host to be our guard.
Eternal God sheltering us
Christ before us and behind us
Holy Spirit deep within us
We clothe ourselves with your presence
We bind unto ourselves today the strong name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same, the Three in One, the One in Three.
Of whom all nature hath creation, Eternal God, Spirit, Word;
Praise to the God of our salvation, Salvation is of Christ the Lord.
Here finally is the video that I intended to upload at the beginning of the week. I have really struggled to put it together, partly because the issue of poverty is so close to my heart. Isaiah 58 is my life scripture and reading through it again this week has brought back many memories for me. Many of the photos I have used are from the refugee camps in Thailand where I worked in the mid 1980s, a season of my life that was pivotal for me. It challenged me to realize that my faith was not primarily about my own needs but rather about using my gifts to meet the needs of others.
This week as we have lived out the Mutunga challenge & cut our food budget to $2 has reminded me again of the call that God placed on my life so many years ago. I feel that this has been a time of recommitment for me to the needest in our world.
Yesterday I did something that a couple of years ago would have seemed idiotic to me – I found myself meditating while rubbingg a pebble in my hand. While I was having my morning devotions I had felt God nudge me to pick up one of the pebbles I gathered when Tom & I visited Coupeville shortly after his son, Clint’s death last year. The stone I chose was a mottled yellow and brown stone, rough with irregular striations running through it – not a particularly attractive stone and I almost put it back, but somehow I knew that was the one I was to use. I called it my “stone of remembrance” and put it alongside another beautiful stone I had picked up on the island of Iona in Scotland last year that I call my “stone of God’s faithfulness.”
To make it look more attractive I rubbed the stone with oil which it soaked in like thirsty soil. It seemed to come to life. As I looked at it I noticed an interesting pattern of light and dark intertwined through it and I was reminded that all of life is a pattern of light and dark, of good and evil intertwined. I thought back over some of the more painful memories in my life and reflected on the fact that I have often tried to either ignore or to completely get rid of the dark places in my life.
In my reflection from Henri Nouwen this morning he talked about bringing our pains home to our adult lives. “…you have to incorporate your pain into your self and let it bear fruit in your heart and the hearts of others… Taking up your cross means first of all befriending your wonds and letting themreveal to you your own truth.”
My stone of remembrance reminds me again that the wounds of my past, the challenges I continue to struggle with during this Lenten season are all an integral part of my life – after his resurrection Christ was identified by his scars, and so are we. Our scars are the result of our willingness to “take up our cross” and walk with Christ toward Jerusalem. They are the result of our willingness to bring our pain into the open so that we can find healing. Only then can we become the people Godintends us to be and only then can we be made whole.
This morning I noticed that my stone of remembrance was dry and unattractive again while the stone from Iona, my stone of God’s faithfulness still shone with the oil I had rubbed on it yesterday. As I again rubbed oil into the remembrance stone I reflected on how the molding of our own lives requires the constant application of God’s annointing oil to shine while the faithfulness of God shines without our doing anything. Amazing what we can learn from a rough and unattractive stone.
I had planned to produce another video for meditation this week (and still might before the end of the week) but as I looked through my photos I was so impacted by this painting I photographed in the Bible Chapel Sheffield Tasmania that I decided instead to use it as a tool for meditation. Perhaps you would like touse it too during next week when we are focusing on world hunger as part of the Lenten challenge. Print out the photo, read through Isaiah 58: 6-9 each morning and see how it impacts you.
Preparing for the Mutunga challenge has reinforced once again the priorities I need to have in my life. Preparing our menu for the $2/ day challenge has made me realize the privilege of choice that we have. This was brought home when I talked to Donna Carter in Calgary a couple of days ago & she told me about a discussion she had with a pastor in Haiti. He told her that in Haiti most people live on $1 per day. “Is that really enough to live on?” she asked him. “No” he responded “but it is enough not to die.”
It is so easy for me when when we are a little short on money to want to restrict my giving to mission organizations. My selfishness could mean that a poor family in Africa does not have enough to live on this week. Generosity is an important part of what God calls all of us to. I am reminded of this every time I go out to harvest from my garden (last week we pulled 14 lb of “left over” carrots before we got the garden beds ready for spring planting.) Our God is a generous God and wants us to share with others abundantly out of that generosity. As it has been for me I hope that taking the Mutunga challenge this next week will reinforce the importance of this for you too.