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

Posts tagged ‘gratitude’

and it was evening, and it was morning. . .

I closed my eyes as I listed to the creation story this morning. The reader had a Texas drawl and I could just imagine her as a grandmother, eager children at her feet, begging her to tell the story again. “Let there be light,” and they ooh and ahh. “God saw that it was good,” and they smile contentedly. “And it was evening, and it was morning,” and they relax into each other, knowing that the story is long.

I am grateful for the storytellers in my life. On this Father’s Day, I celebrate a man who has never met a stranger, someone who strikes up a conversation wherever he happens to find himself, one who can tell you the same story again and again and tell it with even more passion the 23rd time. My dad has taught me the Southern art of storytelling, the way men and women have been passing down tales from generation to generation. It’s a way of connecting – with the people around you, with the events of the past, with our collective hopes and dreams for the future. It’s made me a better preacher and a better pastor, and for that, I’m grateful.

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I’m also thinking of another storyteller today: my mom. Today is her birthday; she would have been 64. She told me stories, too, but not always with her words. Her life spoke to me of challenges and accomplishments, of struggles and victories, of fear and faith. When she graduated from college, she and my dad moved hundreds of miles away from family in Indiana to start a new life in South Carolina. When life took several unexpected turns, she told me everyone who knew her expected her to go running home. But she didn’t. She stayed. And struggled. And built a life, one with meaning and purpose and filled with sisu (that’s Finnish for bravery and courage in the face of adversity.) Today I celebrate her life, her teaching, her determination to the very end.

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“And it was evening, and it was morning. . .” The creation story reminds me that life goes on, creating continues, one day at a time. Even if you’re not in a 12-step program, it’s still a pretty good motto. Each day is another day to celebrate the relationships in our lives, the love we share, and the support that is always available. Each morning we can give thanks for God’s presence within and around us, for the calling we receive in baptism, and for our role as co-creators with God. Each evening we can rest in the assurance that the Holy Spirit will take our efforts and multiply them like loaves and fishes to satisfy the needs of the world.

Today I begin my call as Campus Pastor to Texas Lutheran University. I am still in shock that God has called me to this new place, for this exciting new ministry. I am thrilled to be able to devote my time to young people as they respond to God’s call in their lives, both for the future and here and now. I am blessed to be joining a team of faculty and staff who view college as a time of formation, not just education. I come to the task bringing all that I am, all that I have experienced, all I have learned from the people God has placed in my life. It’s time for a new adventure with the Spirit, a new chapter in my ministry, a new challenge of co-creating with God. It will be evening, and it will be morning, and the journey will continue. I give thanks that God sees that it is good.

 

 

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.

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finding abundant life

finding abundant life

I am blessed to be able to travel to spend time with friends and family. And this time, I was in a warm, wonderful place with lots of water! I thank God for a strong body that enables me to move with and against the waves and the wind, and for the Spirit abundantly evident in the process!

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