working out what life and call and prayer and silence are all about

Archive for March, 2014

abundant life at home

Traveling is incredibly stimulating to me. Seeing new sites, meeting new people, experiencing new cultures – all of this sets my senses on high alert and makes me almost giddy. And this state of being is perfect for the discipline of awareness. Looking for abundant life in a new setting was a breeze. Where wasn’t I seeing God at work, pouring out life in abundance?

And then I came home. I had to do laundry. I had to go through the mail. I had to feed the dog. And my son. None of these are exciting tasks in my life, yet they are all necessary (especially feeding that boy.) So where is the abundant life in the midst of the drudgery?

I led worship this morning. I was kind of a mess. I couldn’t find where last week’s substitute pastor left my lavaliere mic. I almost started the service without a bulletin to tell me what page we needed to be on. And I totally blanked on what I say every week when we collect the offering. But as I was swirling in my own personal chaos, people were gathering and sharing stories of their week’s work. Our pianist played a moving prelude. Readers proclaimed God’s Word with passion and expression. Kids came running up to me for the children’s sermon. People responded to my sermon, even when I felt like I was heading off on too many tangents.

And just in case I wasn’t paying attention to all these wonderful signs of abundant life, God gave me the choir. They sang a John Bell song from the Iona Community: We Will Take What You Offer, and let me tell you: they rocked it. 4 parts, staggered entrances, building excitement, conveying commitment to discipleship, filling our hearts with passion to do the same.

Their voices lifted me up and reminded me that I was home. These are my people – friends in Christ, partners in ministry. And as we sing together and pray together and work together, we live out the abundant life Christ promised. I thank God for them.

abundant life breaking through

20140322-171207.jpg

Some days there is just too much coming at me at once. That’s when I need to remember this image. Even when I feel buried under the burdens of life, still there is abundant life breaking through – signs of love, signs of hope, signs of peace. I give thanks for the small signs of abundant life that sustain me in the midst of the swirling chaos of life.

abundant life in the darkness

We were 20 minutes out from Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport when the pilot came on the speaker with the routine update for passengers. He dutifully reported the balmy conditions that awaited us – even at 10:30 at night, the temperature would be 80 degrees. I fly enough to know the temperature reading is usually followed with a report about the cloud cover, something central to a pilot’s world, but not necessarily to mine. But this time the report made me pause: “Visibility is endless.”

Image

I looked out the window. It was dark. Really dark. I could see tiny lights on the ground that marked the outer band of development of this sprawling city. But mostly, I could see nothing. Endless visibility? Hardly.

Darkness and visibility don’t go together. Or do they?

The practice of contemplative prayer invites us to quiet our minds, set our egos aside for a moment, and lean back (as Tilden Edwards says) into our spiritual hearts. But when we do – when we actually release the images and ideas and random thoughts that pop into our minds, what’s left is darkness. Just me and my emptiness. And that doesn’t feel great. The darkness we meet on the inside is far scarier than much of the darkness we face in our everyday lives. I long for the light of my thoughts, the brightness of my carefully constructed ego with all of its success and pride and satisfaction in what I’ve built around me. I grasp for ideas and solutions that flow through my mind, eager to climb back out of the abyss.

And yet when I’m able, for whatever reason, to let go, to release what I’m clinging to, to fall into that darkness within, I discover something incredible. That the visibility IS endless. In the darkness, I can see Love. In the darkness, I can see Peace. In the darkness, I can see New Life. 

I’m grateful for the gift of the darkness. I’m grateful for the courage to let go and let the darkness close around me. Because when I release all I have collected to make me feel safe and loved and powerful, I discover true security, true love, true power in the arms of the Divine Creator and Lover of us all. Thanks be to God for the discovery of abundant life in the darkness.

Passing along this word on mindfulness

Grateful to my friend, John, for sharing these thoughts on the use and intent of mindfulness.

Mindfulness: A Christian’s Understanding.

abundant love in the bounty of seasons

The first time I saw the tree, it was in the spring. I was here, at Bon Secours Retreat and Conference Center, Marriottsville, MD, in May of last year for our first Residency. In between the breaks of our very intense learning about contemplative prayer and leading groups and retreats, I would wander the grounds, reveling in the abundance of blooms. So much was flowering at that time: dogwoods and daffodils, azaleas and crocus. There were colors and blossoms everywhere I looked. The abundance filled me with awe at God’s creativity in living Technicolor.

I don’t know why I fell in love with this particular tree. Perhaps it was the way the branches leaned out over the water, as if wanting to go for a swim. Maybe it was the little birdhouse hung on the lowest branch. Whatever the reason, I was drawn to this tree, and experienced several poignant moments meditating on its beauty.

IMG_1408

Now it is winter. Late winter, to be sure, but still winter, as proven by last night’s snowstorm. We awoke this morning to the quiet beauty of new fallen snow. And I was called to explore! I had brought most of my snow gear from Flagstaff in the hopes that I would actually need it, and so I plunged into the crisp morning, reveling in the stillness. As I came around the lake, I recognized my tree, still standing proudly, with branches arched out over the small lake. And even though the landscape was void of color – covered entirely in white – the beauty took my breath away.

IMG_2432

The branches were bare of leaves and gently balanced the snowfall as gift and treasure. The buds that were just beginning to form spoke to me of the promise of spring, suspended in the reality of this last storm of the season (some would hope.) And in that suspension, there is the hope of transformation. Spring is promised, but not yet present. And yet the tree waits, heavy with the burden of reality while also pregnant with possibility.

Here is abundant life – that trees and bushes and creatures and all of us are held in that waiting time. That while we long for the transformation to come, we are supported and nurtured and guided by the Eternal Love that birthed all of creation. And so no matter what season of living you are experiencing – growth, death, birth, waiting – know that you are held by the One who holds all of creation in love. And in that certainty, you can live out your abundant life!

Abundant life through creativity

I experienced the bounty of a silent retreat this weekend. Such an incredible experience in so many ways. The theme centered on God’s creative Spirit working in and through us, and so there were several opportunities to stretch ourselves in new ways.

I don’t consider myself artsy, but since this was using art as a method of prayer, I jumped right in. I was drawn to the art form of making collages. It was amazing to be able to express the insights floating around in my head in a new and simple way! I just looked for images that spoke to me and cut and pasted. I even got to play with a little roller bar to get all the air bubbles out- way fun!

I created several collages throughout the weekend, but this one I want to share with you. I wrestle daily with my call as a pastor- what that means, how I live that out, where that call comes from. So this collage represents how I feel called as a pastor right now. I won’t explain it- where’s the fun in that? I invite you to discover the abundant life that’s flowing through my creative prayer life today! And may you discover your own call to serve God in the world right where you are, and may you be surprised by the abundant life within.

20140316-193254.jpg

How much is enough?

I am grateful for this azalea, brought to adorn our meeting space.

20140314-191506.jpg

I used to live in a place full of azaleas and dogwoods and daffodils, just to name a few of my favorites. But now I live in a place full of rocks and I sometimes find it hard to see God’s creative hand at work.

I have a deep appreciation for the intricacies of the desert. I recognize that it’s a delicate ecosystem and has value in and of itself. But when I’m looking for signs of God’s abundance, I don’t immediately think of heading out my back door.

But why not? There are three towering blue spruce there, spreading out their branches over the stones and the weeds. There is a tiny creek that runs through my neighborhood, meandering toward town. And in the spring (late May,) surprising little flowers spring up in the forest, bursting out of the rocky ground.

When I compare these to the lush landscape of my homeland in South Carolina, they seems small and insignificant, as far as signs of life go. But why the comparison? Abundance is a matter of perspective. Abundance can’t really be quantified. Abundance is finding life and naming it “enough.”

I’m grateful to be back on the East coast where the bulbs are peeking out all across the landscape. But I also claim that abundance can be found even in the dusty ground of Arizona. That is good news, not just for the earth, but for my life.

Blessings on your desert days, and may you find abundance that is enough.

Tag Cloud

revtiffanythomas

This WordPress.com site is the bee's knees

Mihee Kim-Kort

Pastor. Mother. Student. Writer. Itinerant. Hopemonger.

Dr. Nichole M. Flores

Cultivating Conversations for Academy, Church & Society

treasures of tarot

Serenity, Courage, Wisdom

Living Contemplatively

Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation

austin vivid photography

heather schramm-lifestyle photographer

Connections

Stories of Ministry within the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod, ELCA

True Story

Part of me wants to spare you the details. Part of me wants to tell you everything.

The Accidental Missionary

A regular guy tryin' to figure it out