Category Archives: Prayer

Walking Beside

A year ago today, we said goodbye to Maci and sat with her, stroking her sweet head, until her heart stopped.

Maci was the kind of dog who didn’t mind walking at just your pace on a leash. Before I ever knew her, she had won a showmanship ribbon at the county fair. She was little more than a year old then and retired from competition soon after, but she never seemed to forget the joy of having that skill.

Walking beside was a particular gift of Maci’s. She was a Chow mix and so as naturally aloof as a cat if you got mushy and wanted to snuggle her. But she loved to lay on your feet when you sat awhile. And if you let her off leash, she’d run ahead a ways then circle back to you, walking beside to check on you, then run ahead again before circling back.

In her final years, when I finally got to know her and care for her, she was mostly deaf, largely blind, indifferent about eating unless it was ice cream. Her back legs got weak and she could barely get herself upright if she was on a smooth floor.

Rest nowShe took all these losses in stride. When she slipped on the wood floor and couldn’t get herself up, she’d simply decide it was a great place for a nap. When she got outside in the dark and couldn’t see or hear, she would stand still, sniff-sniffing the air for all the clues — all the vast life and news of the neighborhood.

And when we would clip her leash onto her collar, her tail would always wag. Then out we’d go. For the first half block, her head up, she’d walk beside, briskly, at just our pace. Then gradually, she’d drop back. Stop to sniff. Pant a little.

We’d turn around then, head for home. We’d alter our pace, as she had finally trained us to do, letting her set the speed. Walking beside.

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Sudden Changes and Slow Work

Everything can change so suddenly.

About 11 p.m. on December 22, after a day of holiday visits with family, my kind and generous stepfather fell asleep behind the wheel, veered off the road and hit a tree head on. It was a powerful impact. He broke both arms, shattered a portion of his left leg. There was internal bleeding and blood on his brain.

For our family, this has been a Christmas of shock and awe. Days and nights circling around the ICU waiting room, learning the medical language, feeling helpless while someone we love is in pain beyond our power to soothe or reach.

That’s the shock part. The awe part has been about seeing each other as the remarkable, beautiful, gifts that we are to each other. The steadiness and wisdom in my brothers. The way my sister can make us laugh at ourselves and be taken seriously at the same time. My mother’s strong advocacy, quick mind and committed, tender heart. I look around the halls of the hospital, and I feel the glory in everyone I meet. What a wonder it is to be alive.

Tonight, Ed will have an extensive surgery to try to reconstruct his leg and elbow. Before they took him to the OR, he was more responsive than he’s been since the accident. He clearly recognized his son and daughter, and my mother, too. Mouthing words of love to them. And then I stepped into his view. His eyebrows popped up in recognition. He looked straight at me. And then he winked.

These are days of signs and wonders.

Everyday is a day of signs and wonders.

We realize there is a long road of recovery and rehabilitation ahead. It’s not just Ed’s road, but one that will be walked by everyone who loves him. We’re a ragtag, glorious bunch. And we’ll stumble along, trusting that God has been, is, and will be somehow right in the midst of the way we go.

Everything can change so quickly, but we will live into that change slowly. Maybe, just maybe, becoming signs and wonders ourselves.

“Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We would like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet, it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability – and that it may take a very long time….. Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming in you will be. Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.”

~ Teilhard de Chardin

Heart to Earth

Today I wanted four legs to curl up underneath me, rest my head on the floor and sigh.

This act, this slow and delicate ballet, requiring a certain nimblenss of joints and spirit, a particular depth of soul and spaciousness of body, this would be the way of entering the day entirely as myself.

Yesterday, during a break in the rain, a tail-less fox that cases the neighborhood was in the backyard again. He had been on the back patio last week, finding a drowned mouse under a rock in the flower bed. We watched him eat it for a snack 10 feet away from where we sat on the couch, looking out the window. Yesterday he surveyed the freshly mowed patch of grass, then jumped straight up on to the narrow plank top of the neighbor’s fence. He scanned their yard and disappeared over the other side.

“Be like the fox,” Wendell Berry wrote. “Make more tracks than necessary/ some in the wrong direction.”

To have four legs would mean I could keep my belly close to the ground, the solid, stable place. I could keep my heart close, too.img_1344

Melt heart to earth the yoga instructor says each day. Melt. Heart. To earth. Such a simple phrase, but a layered picture of natural relenting — of letting go into a grounded, wide awake space of listening and seeing.

In the Genesis story of creation, God takes dirt from the ground to make the first human being. The Orthodox poet Scott Cairns envisions God not just breathing into that handful of earth with a loving kiss, but then covering God’s self with the mud, head to toe, caked on…and then wiggling out of the kissed clay, which then arises, alive: human in the image of God.

So melting heart to earth, tucking legs under and sighing into rest. To be home and myself without over-much struggle. To leap fences, unconcerned about trespassing, even though my tail has been torn off, to make tracks not for efficiency’s sake, but for curiosity. For discovery. To melt heart to earth and feel God’s kiss. Again and again.

Make more tracks than necessary
Some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

 

A Prayer Before Writing

Holy God,
who spoke a garden into a man,
into a story that still keeps telling–
You are the first letter on the page,
the string of sense in all that is.
You are the silence between the words and
story unwinding.

I am not able to speak.
Not only are my lips as unclean as Isaiah’s,
but I am afraid.
And I am tired.
I am easily distracted by what is not Word,
my own too-small vision.
I confess that I do not understand
what you call me to do.
I confess that I know you keep calling me to do it.
Christ have mercy.

Thank you for the gift of language.
Frail and fractured as it is,
words still puncture into presence,
overtake our nerves.
Thank you for eyes to read,
ears to notice.
Thank you for speaking
the native tongue of mystery.

Take this writing time.
Make Your Home in it.
Exultant Author, hover over these moments,
linger in this ink,
speak through this hand.
Restore Your world
through your everlasting Word.

Amen.

Via Esperanza
As we sigh toward God
don’t lose appetite for hope.
With our small desires
He spins in-breaking beauty.
He will do what He intends.

It is Good

Many years ago, my husband lived in Israel. One Saturday morning, soon after he got there, he pulled the lawn mower out of his garage and fired it up. He’d hardly gotten to the lawn itself when he looked up to find several of his Jewish neighbors standing at his fence, scowling and shaking their fingers at him.

It was, of course, Sabbath. Mowing the lawn was forbidden for the Jews, but it was also frowned upon for the Gentiles in the neighborhood.

Sabbath. Shabbat. In Hebrew the word literally means: Quit. Stop. Take a break. If it were a traffic signal, Sabbath would be a red light, not just a stop sign. Not just a quick, rolling pause before proceeding, but a full halt, leaving your foot on the break. An interruption in the flow of your movement, a break of momentum.

What an odd thing. And really, it’s so ancient; is it even relevant anymore? I mean, didn’t that go out with the Old Testament sacrifices and such?

I’ve been reading about Sabbath recently, and regardless of what we think, it’s hard to get around the fact that it’s actually a commandment. Number four in top ten to be precise. “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy…” So where did Sabbath come from? What is it for? Why would God ask us to do such a thing?

In Genesis 1 and 2, we get a remarkable story. It’s also a familiar story, so it’s easy to miss how incredible it is. “In the beginning…” In the beginning there is absolutely nothing except God, in the form of a Spirit, hovering over a void. And then God takes action. The first thing we see God do is work. He speaks, things are created, they are good things. Morning. Evening. Another day, and God does it again; He gets to work – creating, shaping, speaking, breathing.

But the 7th day is different. God still does some things, but they are very different things. Eugene Peterson pointed out that in Genesis 2, when the 7th day rolls around, God did four things: He finished, he rested, he blessed, and he made the day holy. The original Sabbath, the prototype.

After Genesis, the idea of a day of rest doesn’t emerge again until after the Israelites have been freed from slavery in Egypt and they’re wandering in the desert. The timing here is interesting to me. At this point, the people didn’t actually have jobs; they didn’t have routine work to do. They were literally wandering around in the middle of nowhere. And it was precisely into this lack of vocation, this big empty, that God pours the Ten Commandments, including one on taking a day off. The fourth commandment: “Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy.”

Holy. What an interesting word. We hear it a lot and we sing it a lot, and when we do, we typically think we mean “perfection” and “without sin or stain.” That might lead us to think that Sabbath is supposed to be a day of moral purity. But that’s not quite the meaning.

The Hebrew word translated “holy” here literally means “set apart.” The Amplified Bible cracks the word open by including the description “withdrawn from common employment and dedicated to God.” In other words, Sabbath is a day that, essentially, is supposed to be different from all other days. This is what makes it holy, not specifically sinlessness, but the fact that it is “set-apart” and dedicated. It’s different.

This, by-the-way, is also what makes God holy — his other-than-humanness, his set-apartness. And on Sabbath, we are invited to “be holy as He is holy” by setting aside our time, our effort, our labor. Sabbath reminds us, as Ruth Haley Barton points out, that we are finite. We cannot do it all. God, on the other hand, is infinite and whole. In Genesis we saw that God rested on the 7th day because He was finished. He commands us to rest because we are not. Sabbath is a day set apart for us to rest, to relax in His completeness, to know that His finishing work is part of our regular rhythm. This is why we need to keep Sabbath holy; we need time that is different and setting aside time is our path through the day of rest.

So let me create a little picture here for you, a picture of Sabbath. It begins with a trail, a path different from the one we take any other morning. We’ll call the trail holiness.

But the trail isn’t the whole picture. In fact, there are problems if we only look at the Sabbath path of holiness. By Jesus’ day, the religious Jews who practiced Sabbath seemed to not be all that relaxed. They had focused so much on the setting apart, that they missed that a day of rest was a means to an end, a path to a destination beyond.

But before we rush too quickly to the destination (I know, I know, some of you are already wondering why we aren’t there yet), let’s slow down on this path, because it’s not just the trail that’s different on Sabbath, it’s the countryside, too.

Every week day, I drive the same roads to work. Everyday I park in about the same spot and come to the same desk and get geared up into the same work state-of-mind. But when I get a day to hike, I drive different roads on the other side of town. I walk out into unfamiliar terrain, a landscape that can catch me off-guard and surprise me. Odd-shaped trees, a close encounter with a bird, the way the light illuminates a meadow of grasses. While I’m on those trails, I’m surrounded by sights and sounds and smells that are unlike anything else I deal with 40 hours a week. And the truth is I pay closer attention; I notice things—both outside and inside.

So it is with Sabbath. It’s a day that, if we let it, can take us through amazing terrain. But what’s the point of that? Think about that for just a moment. In our incomplete, fallen, and twisted world, what makes you most open to God? A newborn baby? A sunset? An unexpected connection with an old friend? A moment in worship when we feel God come near? These things have the power to take our breath away, especially because they are not the result of anything we can do. Wonder of wonders!

But most of the time, we’re just too busy, too capable, to “on top of it” to make room for wonder. Enter the Sabbath command.A day of real rest clears out the mental and emotional clutter. It opens us up to deeper amazement, deeper delight and awe for the One who longs for our undivided attention. Think of the last time you were truly able to step away from your “regular” life (maybe you can hardly remember!). Weren’t you more susceptible to seeing how beautiful your family was, more aware of how miraculous life is, more alert to God’s work in your heart? Sabbath gives us a regular chance to really look and really see, to really listen and really hear, to really accept and really receive the gifts of grace, love, mercy, beauty. And worship. Community worship on Sunday is just one obvious way to create this opening.

If holiness is the path of Sabbath, wonder is the terrain, the country of Sabbath. So what is the destination? Let me begin to answer that by quoting a short bit from the gospel of John:

Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was a Sabbath. (John 5:8-9)

In the next few verses, the Pharisees complain that this healed guy did “unlawful” work that Sabbath by carrying his mat. If you remember the story, you know the Pharisees confront Jesus about this. But before we get to Jesus’ answer, stop for a moment and imagine, for the life-long lame man who was healed that day, what do you think the rest of his week was like?

In one word, he was transformed. And transformation is the destination of Sabbath for us, too. When we set aside one day a week to become aware of the magnitude and beauty of God, how could we not be transformed? How could our lives, slowly but surely, not become more and more in tune with the Lord of the Sabbath? How could our rest not begin to deeply impact the other six days—the work?

It seems that Jesus saw it this way, because when, later that day, the Pharisees question him about this Sabbath-healing business, Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working (Do you hear how that must have grated on the Pharisees who only saw Sabbath as “non-work”?) …. I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself (Do you hear him admitting his limitations?); he can do only what he sees his Father doing (Do you hear his openness to God’s miraculous wonders?), because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (John 5:17, 19). In other words, the Sabbath leads to the transformation of our work by helping us to recognize that what’s important is actually the Father’s work.

We get so busy, so smart, so excited about our ability to multi-task and get the job done. It’s easy to forget that God does not actually need our work. There’s nothing that we do that He couldn’t get a duck to do instead. This is just reality, folks.

But the Lord welcomes our participation with Him. He welcomes it because, I suspect, He enjoyed His creation work so much that He wanted to share. He wants our joy to be complete. And more than anything, He wants us to do what we see our Father doing.

Sabbath, ultimately, is a day set aside so that we can return our eyes to what the Father is doing. It opens the door to an awareness of God-at-work that we can take back to work. Ultimately, Sabbath can be used to transform our hearts, making us more and more accessible to the movement of the Spirit every day of the week. Making us more passionate about following, more aware of how we get in the way, more available to be used as fountains of restoration for others. Sabbath allows us to participate in our own re-creation, “making all things new,” and to say with God, “it is good.”