The Sea is Calling

Many of you know that I’m a trained spiritual director. Some of you may have no idea what spiritual direction is. I explain it more on this page. The image above, which I’ve used before on my Facebook page, and which I recently used to update my page, is a gift that “happened” to me while on a cruise. I looked up, and what you see in the image is what I saw. It reminded me of the “three chairs” we often associate with the practice of Spiritual Direction. (You can see a popular three-chair image on this page). In the above image, I saw the ocean as the third chair, the place for the divine, whom we welcome into our midst during spiritual direction sessions to be present with us, making our conversation holy.

We are headed out to sea again, next week, and the thought of being on that wide-open space reminded me of the above picture. In a recent class (lesson 1) I talked about how, in Genesis 1:2, the language speaking of God’s Spirit “hovering over the waters” was akin to mother-henning (used in a loving way) creation into being. All birthing and mothering is a beautiful, painful, messy, profound experience, whether it’s children, the world or our own souls, and requires the wet-muzzle nudges, warm-tongue licks, and tender watching that mother-spirit provides.

One of my favorite challenges on a cruise ship is to find solitary space among the thousands of passengers. I’m often blessed with quiet spaces all to myself, such as what happened to me when I stumbled upon the image above. The sea is calling my soul, and I long to go experience her. To what is your soul calling you?

Lessons from the Desert

I’ve recently been in correspondence with a friend about a retreat we are going to next fall, led by a hermit who lives out her life in a desert. So, this stared a conversation between us about the desert. This morning, she told me that, on a trip to Israel, they had a Jewish guide who told them that he takes his children into the desert every year for a week because it is the only place where one can find total silence. I often have conversations with people about which they prefer: 1) flat, wide-open spaces or 2) majestic mountains. I used to be a mountain person, mountains like the mysterious Smokys or Appalachians. I never related much to the desert.  Until lately.

I think I’m changing. I have been visiting New Mexico often over the past 15+ years, and the desert has been slowly growing on me. There is mystery to be found there, too, and sometimes the vastness of the bleak, open nothingness just takes my breath away. I will never forget the first spring we drove from Oklahoma to New Mexico. I was awestruck by the beauty of the desert, and how alive with color it was in the spring.

Today is Good Friday. It’s the day Christians contemplate the death of Jesus. Deserts are often a theme for Lent, especially during the last days of the Passion Week. I’ve seen churches take away all the flowers that usually accompany the altar, and replace them with things like dry wood, rocks or tumbleweed. Jesus was familiar with the desert. We often find him going to a “deserted” place to be alone, to renew.

Some have a hard time with this season. Some cannot relate to a God portrayed as a “Divine Child Abuser.” Some cannot relate to violence of any kind, and simply refuse to focus on Jesus’ pain and death. On the other side of the coin, some have trouble with all of the pomp and circumstance that often accompanies over-the-top Easter services … too loud … too happy … too much. It can be hard to put on a smile when your lived experience is too painful to relate to all of this happiness.

Maybe the desert is a good thing to contemplate for those who fall into these precarious spaces. Maybe we could allow the desert to speak to us this day. Maybe those desert blooms can tell us a story of the power of stubbornness, the beauty in the bleak mystery, how small slivers of hope can shine through the dry cracks of our lives, how silence can speak louder than all the cacophony of Easter morning.  

As We Come to the Close of Lent

I have spent the last 5 weeks teaching an overview of the Bible. Preparing for that class has consumed most of my time, but it has been a labor of love. I had a deep desire for people who really knew nothing about the Bible, but who wanted to know more, to obtain a good overview. So, we discussed what was in most of the books, and how they were organized. There were lots of handouts, such as maps and tables and some important verses to remember, because it’s nearly impossible to get everything that’s critical into just 5 lessons. I also wanted to give voice to some women’s stories that are either overlooked or interpreted badly. But, more importantly, I wanted people to fall in love with the God I know and love, because I have discovered that a lot of people have come to some negative conclusions about God, and, because of that, have given up on God. You can listen to those 5 classes, and download those handouts here. (Check back in a few days for the final posting of lesson 5.)

What we learned is how hard it is to pin God down, how hard it is to describe God. And, we learned how the men who authored the pages of the bible, did their best to do so, using as a reference point what they understood of how the world worked, given the historiographic complexities of their time. We learned how words will always fall short with such endeavors, and that no matter the choice of words we end up putting to paper, God will always be more than what we say God is. We were reminded that those men, although inspired by the same Holy Spirit that lives in us, possibly, quite possibly, were limited by their biases and their understanding. But also, we learned that the God about whom they wrote trusts us enough to be found in these pages, nevertheless. And we hopefully came to a realization that maybe God didn’t actually cause all of those awful things the writers assumed God’s hand was behind, but that, without God, we humans can be very brutal, and in need of someone, or something, upon which to lay the blame.

Hopefully we realized that the God who cares so much about us is the God whose handiwork is the beauty and miracle that is this planet. We saw a God who relentlessly pursues us, who longs to be in relationship with us, who is always with us, despite our being the ones to do the leaving … or ignoring. We saw a God who is faithful, who is a rock, who is quick to forgive, who will actually forget our acknowledged and confessed screw-ups, who loves us eternally, but especially likes it when we are willing to admit we are wrong … be vulnerable, pliable, honest, repentant. We saw God’s lovingkindness, or chesed (חסד), or grace, from cover to cover. We saw a God who, at the very beginning, loved to walk and talk with us in the garden, who came to dwell among us as a man, and who lives in us to this day through the recreating feminine-wind-breath of Spirit. Hopefully we learned that our ever-present, unchanging God has never left us, despite our blaming God, still to this day, for every bad thing that happens on this plant and in our lives. And, we were left to admit that maybe we have been the ones who left, or who failed to open our eyes and hearts, to see that God is really everywhere, still … the same.

We remembered back to lesson one, how the Bible opens with a female, the Spirit of God, “mother-henning” the newly-birthed creation. We learned about women throughout the bible who were named and nameless but nevertheless were strong, resilient, wise, powerful, and faithful. We saw these traits displayed in women who were the first to name God, or the first to understand that Jesus was God-among-us … Emmanuel. We saw these traits in women who were mostly considered property, who had no choice but to follow and obey their owner-husbands, whose bodies were considered worthwhile only for producing male offspring. We talked about women who gave of their livelihood and lives in order to follow Jesus, a pattern that would continue long after his death. We talked about women of influence who were quiet leaders and were reminded that #metoo is nothing new. And, we noted that the Bible closes (Rev.21:2) with a woman, depicted as the New Jerusalem, the church, you and me, coming as a bride to her wedding.

And then it says (Rev. 21:3-5, my paraphrase)

God, like our mothers, wiping away every tear from our eyes
God-with-us, Emmanuel, even in the face of death and mourning and crying and pain

God, showing us a new way of being in this world
God, recreating us, a continual resurrection
God, the beginning and end of everything
God, the thirst-quencher who gives free water from the water-of-life spring
This is our inheritance, our hope … all of it, because
God is ours, and we are God’s

God bless you as you enter into the Easter season.

Emmanuel

Emmanuel is a term we usually associate with Christmas. However, I was listening to the sermon this morning. It was on lament. And the minister said that, no matter how much we wail at God, God never leaves us. God is always with us. “God with us” is the literal meaning of Emmanuel.

I have spent the past couple of weeks with the women in the Hebrew Bible, crying with them, wailing with them, trying to fathom the unimaginable things they lived through, hearing their laments. What comes through loud and clear is that no matter how bad things get, God is always Emmanuel … with us. When the Bible gets tough, when our lives get tough, it’s easy to throw up our hands and raise the white flag. But it’s important to be reminded that God doesn’t cause our pain, but is Emmanuel … God with us … through it all.

In preparation for the class I taught today, I made a list of verses about our Emmanuel God, pulled from various books of prophesy. I’m sharing them with you, so that they may be a source of strength and to help us remember our Emmanuel God. Maybe you could spend some time with them this week, in your Lenten meditations, either in contemplation, or as inspiration for journaling.

  • Is 2:4 He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.
  • Is 12:12 Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.
  • Is 40:8 The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.
  • Is 40:28 Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.
  • Is 40:31 But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
  • Is 41:10 So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
  • Is 43:25 I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.
  • Is 49:15 Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!
  • Is 58:6 Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
  • Jer 1:5 Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart;
  • Jer 6:16 This is what the LORD says: Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.
  • Jer 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
  • Jer 29:13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
    Jer 33:3 Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.
  • Jer 31:3 I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.
  • Ez 36:6 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
  • Hosea 6:6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.
  • Micah 6:8 He has shown all you people what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
  • Zeph 3:17 The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.
  • Mal 3:6 I the LORD do not change.
  • Mal 3:10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this, says the LORD Almighty, and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.

Find more at: http://topverses.com

The God Who Sees

Today we continue our Lenten journey with the story of Hagar which is found in Genesis chapter 16. She is an Egyptian “handmaid” (some versions of the bible refer to her as a “maidservant”) for Sarai. Sarai’s name is later changed to Sarah by God, and, since she is better known as Sarah, that’s how I’ll refer to her. Sarah is the wife of Abram (whose name was later changed to Abraham), and in Genesis 11:30 we are told that she was barren, a critical point for what happens with her handmaid, Hagar.

Here are the facts as reported in Genesis 16: Sarah convinces Abraham to have sex with Hagar. Hagar becomes pregnant by Abraham, and then Sarah and Hagar start having problems in their relationship. Sarah “deals harshly” with Hagar (16:6), and Hagar runs away.

This story is near the top of my favorite bible stories, and I believe there is a lot more going on than what meets the eye. For starters, “maidservant” or “handmaid” (different translations use either word) are such benign terms. In today’s understanding, Hagar was a slave, owned by Sarah. Genesis 16:4 recounts Hagar’s reaction when she became pregnant by Abraham. The common view is that, “typical of women,” Hagar was flaunting her pregnancy which greatly upset Sarai. Let’s remember that Hagar didn’t have any say in what happened to her, which, in modern-day terms, would be considered rape. Hagar is a #MeToo woman. Back then, wives, concubines and slaves were property. And, because Hagar was Sarah’s property, anything that was Hagar’s was legally Sarah’s, including Hagar’s children. And, to add to the abuse of rape, she is now pregnant. Try to put yourself in Hagar’s shoes. If you were a slave and your owner forced her husband on you and you got pregnant, wouldn’t you, too, be angry with your owner? The translation in English says that Hagar “looked on her mistress with contempt,” but the actual Hebrew has the force of “she despised the sight of her.” To reciprocate, Genesis 16:6 recounts that Sarah treated Hagar “harshly.” The Hebrew actually could be interpreted as Sarah violated or abused Hagar. So now we have rape resulting in pregnancy, and abuse by her owner.  Who wouldn’t try to run away from this situation?

Now we get to the reason I love this story, and it’s one of the more moving exchanges in the bible between God and a human. This part of the story is in Genesis 16:7-13. The Angel of the Lord, which we understand to be God for reasons I won’t go into here, follows Hagar and speaks words of comfort to her. God tells her to name her child Ishmael, which means “God hears.” In return, Hagar gives God a name … El Roi, the God (El) who sees (Roi). Imagine that! The first name given to God was given by a woman! While this isn’t the end of Hagar’s story, this is where I will stop, because I want us to be sure we have understood what just happened.

In this story we get a glimpse of the God we worship. Ours is not a God who causes our pain and suffering, but a God who is with us through it all. Ours is a God who will relentlessly pursue us, even when we are running away from our lives. God hears us when we cry out in our anguish. God wanted Hagar to remember that point so much so, that God named her child “God hears.” God “gets” us like no one else because God truly “sees” us like no one else. That is why one of the many names for God is El Roi … God-Who-Sees. The same God who pursued Hagar in the wilderness, who spoke gentle words of comfort to her, who truly saw her for the beautiful soul she was, is the same God who pursues me and speaks to me and sees me … if I will only wait, notice, listen.

Spend some time this week with this story contemplating these aspects of God.

… and the Spirit of God …

The bible is a book written by men and is mostly stories about men. Considering today’s current climate with the #MeToo movement and attention being called to women who do not have a voice, it might be a good time to give voice to some women in the bible. Over a few weeks in Lent I will be focusing on some of those stories. Today, let’s start with the first female being mentioned in the bible. She is found in Genesis chapter 1 and verse 2 … the Spirit of God. God is mentioned first, of course, in Genesis 1:1, but God has no gender.

This is what we read in Genesis 1:2

The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

Some versions refer to the Spirit of God as the “wind of God” because the Hebrew word for Spirit can be translated as such. What I’m interested in is the “hovering.” Some translations use “moved” in place of this word. The meaning of the word could also be “to brood,” and some interpreters say the force of the word could mean “to bear” as in bearing a child. The fact is, the earth, being formless and void, needed a woman’s touch! Hovering and brooding over things that are not quite yet done are typical mothering things to do.

Creating is a feminine endeavor, not exclusively feminine, but often thought of as feminine. We women create lives in our bodies. We create a “home” that is beautiful, comfortable, and meets the needs of our families (not unlike God’s creation of a beautiful and comfortable earth for humans). The word earth, by the way, is also a feminine noun in Hebrew. We women fuss and brood over our homes, making our nests, ensuring that “it is good” and beautiful and nurturing and comforting.

To top it all off, God makes clothes for Adam and Eve (3:21). While sewing is not a strictly feminine endeavor, it is mostly associated with women. So, not only are God’s initial acts of creation/creating feminine, God ensures that the humans have clothes to wear.

I love the image above of the bird gathering materials to make a nest for her young. She looks fierce, doesn’t she? Maybe not unlike our own fierce mothering instincts … or maybe not unlike God’s.

What does this all mean to me? I find this aspect of God to be comforting. God’s nature includes preparing, creating, comforting, protecting, nurturing, and those are beautiful and healing thoughts to contemplate. For women who may have been abused, or who have suffered spiritual trauma, only knowing a God who is vengeful and punishing, this is good news.

Spend some time this week contemplating this aspect of God. Re-read the creation account with a mother’s eye and heart. Ask for your understanding of God to be more deeply opened to you.

We Interrupt this Study …

After nearly two months off for traveling, and a month finally getting settled back into a routine, we are nearly into Lent. Ash Wednesday begins this week. So, while I’d like to get back to the Psalms, it is time to interrupt these thoughts with a special study during Lent. We will take a break with Psalm 78. It is a “teaching psalm” (that’s what a “maschil” is). And what it teaches is the history of Israel. Which makes for a good segue, because, interestingly, I have decided that during Lent I’d like to review a bit of history. By “bit” I mean I plan to teach, over the next few weeks, a Sunday School class that will cover the entire Bible! Whew!! And, I will be sharing some things from that class on this blog. So, if you’d like a quick overview of the Bible, this may be a good way for you to spend the Lenten season.

There will, however, be a twist. I will be covering the Bible from a feminine perspective. Many of us think we know what the Bible is about, and we think we know the major stories. However, those stories are told by men, from their perspectives, and we often overlook the stories about women, or contemplate what a woman’s perspective might have been, had they told the stories. So, if you are up for a different way of looking at scripture, please join me.

As you prepare this study, you might ask/consider the following:

  1. Find your Bible! Dust it off! Open it up!
  2. Ask God to open up the eyes of your heart to seeing something fresh and new.
  3. Ask God to help you to fall in love all over again with the Word.
  4. Be willing to have an open mind, and to consider that there might be another interpretation that you have not considered.

Remembering Dorothy

I attended the memorial service of a saint yesterday. She was 102 when she transitioned from this life. Labeling her as a saint was something mentioned often during the service, and was a claim also made in a blog by noted theologian, Dr. Joe Jones. Psalm 76 is about remembering. The psalmist not only states that they remember God (verses 3, 6, 11), they recount the things they remember about God. Today, I’d like to remember Dorothy by recounting my memories of her.

 

I met Dorothy Messenger sometime in 2008 at, what I learned later was called, “Friday Group.” It was advertised in church announcements as a book club. My work schedule allowed me to be off every-other-Friday, so I thought I might join them on my Fridays off. I soon discovered this was no ordinary group of women. I was the youngster among them, their ages ranging from the 70s to the 90s, and I in my 50s. Dorothy was 92 or 93, still driving in those days, living alone in her own home. That first time I visited the group, they shared with me about some of the books they had read and discussed in the past, many of which I had on my bookshelves at home. They were reading Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies, taking turns around the table with the reading, not skipping a beat at the F-bombs, no giggles or apologies (no “Pardon my French.”). And then the conversation ensued. I was just fresh from 40 years in a conservative denomination, and this was my first encounter with women who had experienced, first hand, their denomination’s move from a male-oriented leadership model to a gender-neutral model. That happened back in the 1960s, so for most of their adult lives their lived spiritual experience was of women in the pulpit, women serving at the Table, women liturgists, women leading committees, women elders and deacons. This is not to say that times were easy for these pioneers, but they had surely settled into a comfortableness with being people of faith who experienced no boundaries for the possibilities of how that was expressed in their lives.

 

I learned from them how our language can shape us in ways we do not fathom, and that the stories we overhear during impressionable years and tell ourselves throughout our lives end up being the measure against which we limit ourselves or allow ourselves to fly. The depth of conversation in that room was unlike any women’s conversations I had ever experienced in my spiritual journey up until then. Over the next few years the group disbanded as aging began its limiting work, but we would meet occasionally for a luncheon. I remember Dorothy hosting us in her home, and I played the harp afterwards. I remember how much Dorothy loved it, and said so. The picture, above, is of a Friday Group luncheon we had at my house in 2011. Dorothy is sitting there at the end, by the window, smiling. She was always smiling, always had an encouraging word for me, always seemed genuinely interested in me and my life and whatever it was I had to say. As speaker after speaker expressed at Dorothy’s memorial service, their lives were richer for having had Dorothy in it. The same is true for me.

 

Remembering is important. Rituals are built around remembering. Weekly communion is one example. Liturgical seasons are another. We are almost upon Advent. I will be taking a break from the blog for several weeks as I approach a new chapter in my life … retirement … and begin a time of travel. I invite you to consider what or whom you might remember during this Advent season, people who have come into (or who have gone from) your life and the impact they have had, or, remembering the One who came into the world and the impact that has made in your life. I hope to return to the blog after Advent.

 

Wishing you a blessed Advent and Christmas season!

Weary in Well Doing

Galatians 6:9 is encouragement for those of us who sometimes (often?) get tired of trying to always do the right thing. “Don’t grow weary in doing what is right.” it tells us. Reading the Psalms, especially those of David, can at times get exhausting for me. He goes on and on and on with how righteous he is, and how screwed up everyone else is. And, I think to myself, I simply cannot relate to David. I don’t think I’m a bag of chips and all that. So, how refreshing it was to come to Psalm 73, composed by Asaph. Although there is some speculation as to who he was, one thing is for certain. He is not David. He doesn’t have a list of all the great things he has done for God. No, in fact, he opens with a confession (my paraphrase):

I’m pretty sure that God is favorable to the good-guys, but me, I’m a screw up, so I wonder. (v.1-2a)

I tripped up when I got jealous, hearing the braggarts, seeing how evil people seemed to fare just fine. (v.2b-3)

<insert a litany of how bad guys end up on top> (v.4-10)

And then they have the nerve to say, “How is God going to know?” (v.11)

<insert more litanies of the things bad guys do> (v.12)

Sometimes I think my attempts at a spiritual life are in vain. (v.13)

And this thought nags at me, because I know it’s not right. (v.14)

And then I  just stuff my feelings. (v.15)

And this inner turmoil, I do not understand it, so I seek ways to numb the pain it causes me. (v.16).

And, then, all of that confusion just melts away when I finally experience God. It hits me, suddenly, when finally I am aware of God’s presence. (v.17)

This is always how it is for me, so here is a Psalm I can relate to. It’s so easy to get caught up in the mess of the world, in other’s junk, to struggle to do the next right thing, and continually feel like we are getting nowhere.  So … screw it. And, just when we are about to really mess things up, God comes along. Well, God is always there, but it feels like God just shows up, unannounced, sometimes, when, truly, I just needed to get myself out of the way so I could recognize God in my life. And everything falls into perspective. God is God, and I’m not. What a load off! Maybe I’ll just focus on me and not those other guys. Novel.

This psalm, when we turn the tables on ourselves, raises several questions, so I leave these with you, to use for your meditations and journaling:

  • What is tripping you up lately? Where are you stumbling? What might you do differently? (v.2)
  • What makes you jealous? Why? What’s behind that? (v.3)
  • When have you shown pride lately? How does it manifest itself? Is pride ever justifiable? (v.6)
  • How is it that our eyes can “bulge with abundance?” Does this sting a little when you think about your own life, how much you have, why it’s not enough, why your eyes keep bulging more and more? (v.7)
  • What does your heart wish for? (v.7)
  • Have you ever spoken like you’re a know-it-all? How did that work out for you? (v.8)
  • Have you ever acted as if you can get away with something and God won’t know? (v.11) In what other ways have you lied to yourself? Wait, what about that bag of chips?
  • Have you ever felt that all your attempts at living a righteous life were in vain? (v.13)
  • Have you ever spent an entire day fretting about something? (v.14)

When I contemplate the above about myself, it’s not a pretty picture. I’d rather pretend I’m not that bad off. But then, verse 11 comes back to haunt me (surely God won’t recognize my rotten heart hidden by my good-girl façade).

I’m always knocked right off my high horse and to my knees, though, when I encounter God (v.17). This is why weekly worship is life-blood for me. This is why periodic prayer/meditation keeps me grounded. I pray you experience the same.  Blessings to you this week as you contemplate your life in God.

God the Rock – A Blessing

This is a blessing for you, based upon Psalm 71

May you find trust in the Lord.

May shame never overcome you.

May you find respite from everything that confines and hinders.

Know that God is always listening and is continually your rock-solid refuge.

May you find deliverance from those who are hurtful and cruel.

May you find hope and trust.

Know that you are being held gently, like a baby from a mother’s womb, and are a wonder!

Even when you come to your sage years and your strength fails, know that you are not forsaken, for God is always near.

May your hope be as continuous as your praise, and without limits.

May God’s strength revive you, lift you up from your troubles, and bring you comfort.