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

Posts tagged ‘abundant life’

abundant life in the little moments

This is a big week. For pastors and for musicians and for church leaders, Holy Week is the busiest time of year, with extra worship services that all have different liturgies, different sermons, different music, different decor. And it usually coincides with the busyness of the world around us: spring sports overlapping, choirs and bands with their spring concerts, end-of-year standardized testing, graduations, weddings, and vacation planning. 

Which is why today has surprised me. The abundant life I’ve been on the lookout for has shown up in small, unexpected ways, in moments that I could have breezed right past. 

Talking with another mom after dropping off my son at school, we connected on an entirely new level, sharing our backgrounds and religious experiences and hopes for our kids as they grow.

Deciding to cut my workout short because I was so low on energy this morning, I ended up with extra time to chat with a friend I always see at the gym, and was able to share in her joy at the news of her first grandchild on the way.

Expressing my frustration at the many details still to accomplish this week, I received a very heartfelt and generous offer of time and support for our office work from a dear friend and member of the church.

I’m grateful that in the midst of a very busy week, I was able to slow down and allow these people to touch my life. In the pauses, in the breaks, in the exhaling, I’ve received the gifts of connection and understanding and compassion. And that’s what abundant life is about. Opening up and allowing the Divine Love to touch me in my vulnerable places, those places that need healing and wholeness more than ever.

I pray that you might find little moments today, too, to slow down, to listen a little more, to share a little deeper, and in those moments, discover abundant life.

Abundant life in camaraderie

These are my people:

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We sing together every Tuesday from 6:00 – 7:00 and sometimes it’s a drag. Some weeks, there are people who haven’t had time to practice the new music, and so we’re stumbling through pieces we were supposed to simply review. Some weeks, half the choir is suffering from the latest bug to pass through town, and there’s more hacking and sneezing than beautiful tones coming from the rehearsal room. And some weeks, many of us are distracted by the various responsibilities and demands of jobs and family and other volunteer work we have to do, and so we keep stumbling over the same easy lines of music just because our brains aren’t working.

And then there are weeks like this one. We held our very first Arizona Mountain Chorale concert last night. In the past, we’ve just performed a couple of songs as part of Master Chorale of Flagstaff concerts. But this time, it was all us. And we shifted into high gear.

I don’t know whether we were all terrified or excited or both, but whatever the motivation, we got down to work. We shifted our schedules so we could add extra rehearsals. (I even delayed going out of town for my birthday to attend an extra rehearsal!) We spent hours at home going over those trouble spots – the tricky rhythms, the challenging harmonies, the dynamics that surprise us on the page turns. Every time we gathered together to get ready for our show, we were intense. And we were together.

And that’s what made last night so amazing for me. Did we get all the rhythms right? No. Did we smooth out all the pitch problems? No. But when we sang, we sang as one voice. We swayed to Cuban beat. We jammed on the spirituals. We floated the motets. Throughout the concert, there was a spirit of unity that swept me up. My voice was made stronger by all the other voices. My effort was increased by all the others offering their efforts. My passion for the music and the message was multiplied because I was not alone. I was with my people.

Today, I’m so filled with gratitude for this group. I am amazed at what we can do when we work together. I am surprised by the relationships that have deepened simply by sharing our talents with one another. And I am grateful for the opportunity to make music with my voice and my body and share that gift with the world. 

I found abundant life in the striving towards a goal and in the finished product of a performance well received. But mostly I discovered abundant life in relationships forged through music, strengthened by the camaraderie of singing.

 

Abundant life in transformation

I am not an artist. I am definitely not crafty. This has been my identity for a very long time. In 6th grade, I was forced to make daily sketches for art class, and I was miserable. I just didn’t know how to translate what I saw to the paper. And ever since then, I have avoided artsy-craftsy situations like the plague. At VBS, I’ve busied myself with learning the music for the next day instead of helping in the craft room. During Sunday School time, I’ve always had very important pastoral duties to attend to whenever there’s been a request for help with the art projects. I’ve always felt that there was just no need for me to even dip my toe into that pool. Art and me don’t mix.

But that’s where God’s humor comes into play. Lately I’ve found myself smack dab in the middle of artsy-craftsy chaos. Here I am at Messy Church, surrounded by kids and adults being creative:

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And again, helping kids learn about the Lord’s Prayer by making a bead bracelet:

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And then, in the midst of learning different prayer forms to help people descend into the silence of contemplative prayer, I’m instructed to use my creativity and create a collage:

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Honestly, what is going on here? I was perfectly happy avoiding art and devoting all my time to something I’m already good at: music. Why am I continuing to bump into craft projects that make me feel inadequate?

Maybe that’s the point. Maybe in those times when I’m feeling off-kilter, when I’m caught off-guard, I’m more open, more able to hear the whispering of the Holy. When my ego has to take a step back, there’s actually a little bit of room for the Spirit to move around in and do the work of transformation that’s needed in my heart. It doesn’t feel great – being put in a position of ignorance. But it’s in the not knowing that my heart is softened and my mind refocused on what is truly life-giving.

I still don’t plan on leading the crafts at Messy Church any time soon. But I’m learning to be grateful for the chance to try a new project, and for the gift of the Spirit working through my inadequacies. There is abundant life in our weaknesses, and transformation underneath every failure. Bring on the scissors and glue – I’m diving in!

When there’s no time to reflect

It’s been almost 2 weeks since I last shared a reflection on abundant life. It was going to be a daily discipline for me during Lent: becoming increasingly aware of God’s presence within and around me, and sharing thoughts on my blog about the abundant life God was gifting me. But the pace of life picked up. There were more appointments, more tasks, more projects to manage. And slowly I found myself without time to reflect on my day. Life became a blur of getting things done in the nick of time and putting off what wasn’t urgent and falling into bed, afraid to think about what the next day’s busyness would bring.

But this morning, I am claiming for myself. I’m not going to accomplish anything. I’m not going to plan for anything. I’m simply going to rest in God’s lap for a while. And maybe ponder these last two weeks. There have been some marvelous moments, after all.

My sister has been in town and we’ve had some wonderful adventures. I think we’re both most proud of our hike up Bell Rock in Sedona.

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The weather was perfect. And the mountain just kept calling us higher and higher. There were more levels to explore, new curves of the rock to investigate. And these piles of rock that marked our path:

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There were moments to stop and turn around and experience another breathtaking view. And there were moments to encourage one another: “Put your foot here – there’s a ledge to grab onto here – you can make it!” What a blessing to be able to share this special place with a special person. Who knew that’s what sisters were for?

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Twice in the last 2 weeks I was surprised by a family of deer. Driving home from Chorale rehearsal late at night, their eyes reflected the light of my headlights and I slowed my car, pausing with them to consider our encounter. Deciding that I wasn’t a threat, they would amble slowly, gracefully into the woods, slipping away into the darkness.

I was showered with love on my birthday. My sister decorated my living room in the middle of the night so I would wake up to streamers and balloons and a “red carpet.” Image

My congregation surprised me with balloons and a cake and The Birthday Song in Lutheran harmony after worship.

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Then more singing, in more parts than I could count, at rehearsal with Arizona Mountain Chorale. And then, of course, there’s Facebook, which allowed birthday wishes to flood in from people I haven’t seen in years. The day was overwhelming, in a good way.

I’m so filled with gratitude for my life, for the people in my life, for the love that we share together. And I’m grateful for this morning to stop and remember the abundant life I’m living. Time to reflect is life-giving. Time to reflect is love-increasing. Time to reflect is essential to my well-being. Praying that I remember that tomorrow. And praying that you are able to find time to reflect on the abundant life that surrounds and fills you this day.

 

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 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.”

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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.

Abundant life in the process

I am blessed to be spending the week with fellow seekers on the contemplative path. We are immersed in silence and awareness of the presence of the holy all day long. Even at mealtimes when we’re laughing at someone’s joke or telling workplace horror stories, still the presence is there, in our consciousness, a part of who we are.

And so when the Spirit moves in a special way, I feel doubly blessed, as I did tonight. My small group was led in contemplative prayer by one of our members who is trained in the Soul Collage method. (Google it. Now.) We selected images and created a collage that was a lens to see ourselves in a new way. The journaling questions led us deeper into the collage, looking for connections and new insights about qualities that are emerging and aspects we’ve not noticed.

I’m not very artsy-craftsy and would never have chosen this method for myself. But the invitation to explore myself in a new way enabled me to trust that my own abilities would not have the last word. And the Spirit faithfully showed up and got to work, leading me to images that spoke to me of the wave of grace and discovery that I am on. In this is abundant life: that even after many years of living, there is always more to discover about ourselves and the way God is working in our lives.

I give thanks for Janet who brought us Soul Collage. And I give thanks for the abundant life that is carrying me into a new tomorrow.

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