Apple Trees in Blossom, in Lyme by Childe Hassam
Happy are they who have not walked
in the counsel of the wicked,
nor lingered in the way of sinners,
nor sat in the seats of the scornful!
Their delight is in the law of the LORD,
and they meditate on his law day and night.
They are like trees planted by streams of water,
bearing fruit in due season,
with leaves that do not wither;
everything they do shall prosper.
The word of God came to Moses on a mountaintop, full of fire and smoke and thunder. With the coming of Jesus, the "word" made flesh, we see God as one of us, only more so. Not only are we are given a model to follow, we are introduced to an elder brother who understands and offers encouragement and strength . And with the advent of the Spirit, we are allowed the privilege of moving even deeper into the heart of God - no longer even beside us, but now residing in our very souls.
Each movement of divine love, each reaching out to us, God's cherished children, comes with a desire for our flourishing, our fruitfulness. We come to realize that the streams of love continuously flow, bringing us all we need for life. Believing this truth, pondering how this love can be drawn up into our lives, and then acting upon it - these pasttimes become our delight and allow our souls to prosper in whatever they do.
Harp by Vered Fishman
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. (1John 4:7,8)
I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)
The season of Easter (which in liturgical churches lasts until Pentecost) has us reading through portions of John's writings. As I read John, I can't help but feel like he understands, perhaps in a mystical way, the true heart of God. In John's Gospel, he refers to himself as "the disciple whom Jesus loved," as if the wonder of this reality is never far from his mind. In his Epistles, he, like Jesus, will cut to the core of the truth of God: God is love, and all who love are in fellowship with God.
Like branches on a vine, sharing the same life-giving sap, our continued connection to God allows love to flow through us, uniting us all with the very source of love, and allowing us to bring forth all the fruit of love. Those who don't love are disconnected, not only from God, but also from their neighbor, and just as importantly, from themselves.
How is it that love is able to connect us? This is the work of the Holy Spirit, which flows continuously from God, bringing all the power and wisdom and grace that we need to flourish. The celebration of Pentecost, still several weeks away, reminds us that this was a new phenomenon, a gift of the Christ; the ability to be a channel for the Spirit of God is now available to all people, not just a select few.
Mechthild of Magdeburg, a medieval mystic, lived in the 13th century. Her visions of God were written down in a book called The Flowing Light of Divinity. In this poem, she captures the essence of love, which is to flow "effortlessly" from the lover toward the beloved. Like the hawk, or eagle, who stay afloat without flapping a wing, riding the currents of air, so Mechthild sees that to love is not a chore for God. As Julian of Norwich is shown, for God to love is a joy, and the very nature of God's being.
What makes this poem compelling is the action that the love of God takes. The Holy Spirit, like a heavenly harpist, sweeps across the varied strings of humanity, desiring to play on and with us. It seems that it is not our responsibility to make the music, rather our effort comes in choosing to be open to the Spirit, open to the love that is endlessly being poured into us. Then, like the branch connected to the healthy vine which cannot help but bear fruit, we, feeling ourselves "touched in love," will have no choice but to respond in kind.
Mechthild of Magdeburg
Love flows from God into man,
Like a bird
Who rivers the air
Without moving her wings.
Thus we move in His world
One in body and soul,
Though outwardly separate in form.
As the Source strikes the note,
The Holy Spirit is our harpist,
And all strings touched in Love
The Old Testament Scripture yesterday morning came from Isaiah 40. This beautiful psalm, which you can read here
, has long been one of my favorites. Handel was so struck with the following verses that he chose them for the opening recitative and aria of his famous oratorio, the Messiah.
Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.
The Israelites are in exile, far from home, living out the consequence of ignoring the ways of God. This exile is never meant to be a permanent condition; it is rather a holy "time-out" of sorts, offering a restart for a nation that has gone astray. Now that time is coming to an end and God is letting the exiles know a change is coming. Finally, there is good news, an announcement that is mean to bring comfort to the hearers.
Which of us doesn't find ourselves from time to time in need of comfort? We feel burdened, depressed, weary or overwhelmed. Perhaps it is a result of our own foolishness, or poor choices, but perhaps it is not our "fault," simply a result of being human, part and parcel with the brokenness we share with our fellow-travelers. When we're in need of comfort, the last thing we want is someone to poke a finger, to attach blame, to sneer and say "I told you so." What we need is compassion and help.
Each Sunday, the Anglican liturgy begins with this prayer:
Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name; through Christ our Lord.
To have our hearts laid bare can be a very scary thing - all our desires known, all our secrets out in the open. Unless the one who is doing the looking is full of compassion. Isaiah tells us a few chapters later that when the Messiah arrives, he will come gently, "not snuffing out a smoldering wick, nor breaking a bruised reed." (Isaiah 42) And so it is with Jesus. He does not come to condemn, he tells his disciples. Mankind is already suffering the consequences of brokenness. One Sabbath morning, given the platform in a local synagogue, He offers these verses from Isaish 61 to describe his calling:
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me,
for the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted
and to proclaim that captives will be released
and prisoners will be freed.
The Advent of Jesus is characterized by compassion. But Jesus doesn't only bring comfort, he also learns what it means to need comfort. By taking on flesh, Jesus embraces the suffering of humanity. He can empathize with us now, because He became one of us then. God no longer offers compassion only from a parental viewpoint, but also as one who has lived in the trenches, experienced the hurt, betrayal, disappointment and grief that are part of the human condition. The comforter is able to comfort from within the system, which means that we can trust in an even deeper way the God to whom we come.
The healing and rest, the restoration that God envisions, continues with the advent of Spirit. And so the prayer above includes the phrase: "Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so that we may perfectly love thee and worthily magnify thy name." As we wait for the Spirit to work in our lives, opening ourselves in vulnerability to the gentle touch of infinite love, we know we will receive new breath, new life. We hope and anticipate being made whole, having our worth restored so that we may live out our vocations to the glory of God.
Mankind healed and empowered to live fully in love is the eternal hope and inifinite desire of God. It was this incomprehensible yearning that set the Advent of the Christ into motion. "For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven" we affirm as we recite the Nicene creed. And so this advent season we wait, with God, for God to get what God wants: ourselves, healed, filled, complete, seen to be of inestimable worth. And we join in hope as we sing with the angels, "Glory to God in the highest."
"If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here..."
"My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest."
Before Moses heads down to begin the serious task of bringing the children of Israel into the promised land, he has a heart-to heart with God on Mt Sinai. And no wonder. What he is about to embark upon is not for the faint of heart. Moses asks for God's ways, so that he will find favor in His sight. He asks for the Lord to go with them, and He asks to have a personal experience of God's glory. God graciously answers all these requests.
I find myself these days working hard to be present, to focus on the moment in front of me. And so this morning I ponder again what it means to be present to the presence of the Spirit of God, which is available to me as it was available to Moses and to every person who seeks to know the ways of God, to find favor in God's sight, and to experience the glory of God.Brother Lawrence
, who lived in a French monastery during the 1600s, made it his goal to be aware of and worshipping God throughout the day, whether peeling potatoes or scrubbing pots. His book, "Practicing the Presence of God" is a collection of letters to inquirers intrigued about his process. But there are other ways of "seeing" God. St Francis saw the presence of God in creation. Mother Teresa in the face of the sick and dying in Calcutta. A new mother sees it in the face of an infant, the artist in the play of harmonics or the glint of light in the autumn afternoon.
We can also recognize the presence of God within ourselves, a heightened awareness in moments when we sense the Spirit getting our attention, notice unusual clarity, participate in inexplicable peace.
Whether outward or inward, through people, animals, nature, language or music, God's presence fills the earth, and wants to fill us. What is left to us is being open, and a commitment to see and be led by a loving, companioning God.
I'm impatient to be "getting things done." I'm not sure what that means, but it has something to do with making a list and working my way through it without getting distracted. Because sometimes I feel like I'm letting all my energy seep out of me with no discernable results. So this morning, I woke up with lists on my mind. First item: no blogging today. But that's not what wanted to happen, it's meant to be a day where lists are made and then set aside, and I'm back to living in the Spirit.
So I followed my heart and did the thing in front of me, letting go of what I wanted in favor of what the Spirit wanted. I remembered that cracked pot in the parable of the two pots which by its leaking waters the flowers on the side of the path, and gave up the desire to be competent and in control and productive so God's energy could flow where it would.
Then I picked up a book of poetry I recently bought, and opened the pages to this poem, which encourages me that I'm on the right path, after all.
A good traveler has no fixed plans
and is not intent upon arriving.
A good artist lets his intuition
lead him wherever it wants.
A good scientist has freed himself of concepts
and keeps his mind open to what is.
Thus the Master is available to all people
and doesn't reject anyone.
He is ready to use all situations
and doesn't waste anything.
This is called embodying the light.
What is a good man but a bad man's teacher?
What is a bad man but a good man's job?
If you don't understand this, you will get lost,
however intelligent you are.
It is the great secret.
I realized after I finished yesterday's post that I should have mentioned Dan's newest book, Playa Perdida (click here) as a great read that touches on some of these ideas of work and rest. The novel chronicles the journey of Gray Albright, a burned out pastor who leaves the mind-numbing pressures of a northern US congregation for the warm and whimsical grace of a church plant in Costa Rica. You'll enjoy Dan's great sense of humor and gentle reminders that God desires our good, and that gifts come in unexpected packages.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _
One of the dangers of including personal journeys in your blog is that often the very thing you're blogging about rears its cheery head and gives you a nip on the backside. I hadn't even hit the "publish" button at the top of my screen yesterday when I noticed that I'd begun to lose it - peace, that is. The airwaves got scrambled with concerns about time commitments, which led to anxiety (so low-level it almost slipped under the radar) and I brought the static into my subsequent conversations. This led to confusion, misunderstanding and a whole lot of wasted time.
However, it did help to confirm my working thesis that peace is important to maintain if you want to keep in step with the guidance of the Spirit. Disruptions to our peace keep us from being able to sense where the energy of God is leading. Recently I've been using the phrase "What wants to happen" as a fresh way of speaking of being led by the Spirit. Though I have a mental idea of what I think might be good, I am learning to submit my conscious plans to the internal nudge of the Spirit. I'm assuming that God is working through my thoughts, my desires, my intuitions and feelings as well as the people around me to guide me into the path for the day. (One way of living into the phrase "Your Kingdom come, Your will be done.)
It's easy for the airwaves to become muddled, especially if our radar has been tuned to pick up other people's feelings and responses, the "you shoulds" of the multiple voices in our heads, or the expectations of the culture in which we're steeped. To enter a watchful stillness, I think it's necessary to lean into the deep love of God. This love, in which Paul reminds us we are "rooted and grounded" (Eph 3:18) is the only thing strong enough to allow us to stand down from defcon 3 or 5 and enter peace.
It's still a challenge to believe that all is well, (that all will be well) that God's love is deep enough to hold me. Surely I'll make mistakes, incur other's displeasure, ruin expectations that are beyond repair. But that's not true. Either God's love is enough for the long haul, or it's not worth my allegiance. However, it's also true that changing my mindset and moving my focus is difficult, and because of that I need the grace of God to even begin. But God is willing and eager to extend that grace, as Paul reminds us with his wonderful prayer for the Ephesians.
"And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." (Ephesians 3:14-19)