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Merchants

I have been pondering God’s presence within me. In her book He and I, Gabrielle Bossis relayed these words from Jesus to her: “Perhaps I created you only to console Me and to give Me a refuge in your heart where you sing Me the hymn of love. Why shouldn’t I have a home on earth? Must I still have no stone on which to rest my head?”

The first part filled my heart; the second made it ache. I find myself deeply desiring to console Him.

What space do I give Him interiorly? Of what quality is it? Is it a place of rest for Him, a protective and healing refuge?

Psalm 132 relates David’s desire is to build a house for the LORD:

I will not enter the house where I dwell, nor go to bed where I rest;
I will give no sleep to my eyes, to my eyelids I will give no slumber,
till I find a place for the LORD, a dwelling for the Strong One of Jacob.

David was thinking of building a temple. I am thinking of a spiritual temple: Where does the LORD dwell? In our hearts. So how do I go about building a dwelling place for the LORD?

That is a huge question and there are a myriad of tangents to consider. However, one lesson I’ve been learning over the years is the balance of “boldly approaching the throne of Grace” to bring our needs before God, vs. using God as a sort of Santa Claus with our own expectations of how He ought to respond.

In a reflection on the gospel story of Jesus cleansing the temple, Meister Eckhart addressed this very thing. He wrote: “As long as we look for some kind of pay for what we do, as long as we want to get something from God in some kind of exchange, we are like the merchants. If you want to be rid of the commercial spirit, then by all means do all you can in the way of good works, but do so solely for the praise of God … Expect and ask nothing in return. Then the merchant inside you will be driven out of the temple God has made …

“…observe that when all was cleared, there was nobody left but Jesus. And when he is alone he is able to speak in the temple of the soul.”

My soul.

A clean heart create for me, God;
renew within me a steadfast spirit.
(Psalm 51:12)

Absurdity

Rejoice always.
Pray without ceasing.
In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

I’ve blogged about this passage before, about how 15 years ago (!) I had just read and journaled about it when I learned my dad was in ICU. It’s remained a powerful passage for me ever since in both trials and blessings.

It truly is a remarkable thing to ponder. Over the years it’s come to mind repeatedly in very different circumstances:

  • as I traveled through the darkest time in my life dealing with depression and loss
  • as I struggled in my marriage and through the process of rebuilding & growing closer again
  • as I walked with my mom through serious health and mental struggles
  • as I’ve given up some very big and long-held dreams for myself
  • as I’ve looked at the messy world around me and have been angry about politics and news and actions of my fellow man

Am I really supposed to embrace that passage and to rejoice always? In each of those circumstances am I to truly give thanks? Are they really God’s will for me?

How absurd!

And yet … there it is. What does it mean, really? How can I truly believe it, embrace it, and integrate it as part of my life of faith?

The thing is, I do believe it – at least at some level. I do know that God brings good out of evil; that all people have blessings and trials and “what we do about them” shapes who we are. I do believe the poem, The Plan of the Master Weaver (found here) is wise and that dark threads are important in our lives.

The challenge for me is learning to live it, to trust God. That brings me back to prayer – and maybe that’s the point of it anyway.

More and more I understand how little control we really have. Anger and worry always makes me more miserable but don’t solve the problem. I’m learning (over and over) to just take care of the things that God has placed before me, to offer kindness and mercy to others, to try to make my little corner of the world a better place, and to leave the rest to God. He’s got this … really.

And somehow over the years, that passage has come to seem more possible and less absurd.

 

 

 

Deceiving Ourselves

Two passages stood out in my morning study, and clearly they are related.

In the first passage God has instructed the people to create a tassel on their garments as a constant reminder of His commandments, lest they follow their own ideas of what is good or evil:

“And it shall be to you a tassel to look upon and remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to go after wantonly. So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: I am the Lord your God.” (Num 15:39-41)

Then, in the very next chapter just 4 verses away:

“They assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said to them, “You have gone too far! For all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them; why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?” (Num 16:3)

It is SO EASY to see myself in those passages – following my own heart and eyes, deceiving myself, deciding that what “I” want and desire is good even when I know it opposes what God has said.

And how easily is the same thing seen in society? Nevermind what God commands … we’ll wantonly decide for ourselves what is good and right! Nothing is wrong! Everyone is holy!

Only that’s the lie, isn’t it? We are not all holy; things are not good nor evil because we decide so, no matter what the world tells us. Truth exists and we know where to seek it.

But will we?

Will I?

Oh God, please make me meek and humble, willing to receive whatever You give to me. Help me surrender my will to yours; open my eyes and ears and heart to You, to Truth.   amen.

 

 

 

 

A little story

It’s nearly Christmas.

Candlelight reflects the glitter from a small plastic nativity scene in my prayer corner. On the back are the words, Made in China. On the bottom is a piece of masking tape on which is written:

nativityFrom Mitch
Age 4
1992

One summer my children spent the day with Mark’s three aunts in Pocahontas, Iowa. Never married, the three had lived together all their lives and had taken Mark and his brothers on childhood adventures to various Midwest destinations from the Black Hills to Wisconsin Dells to Kansas City to Dubuque.

Later, our children were the beneficiaries of hours of doting and attention. On this day they went downtown to the Ben Franklin store and each of the kids was given $1 to spend on candy or a little toy.

Mitch found the little glitter nativity scene and asked if it was ok if he bought it for “my mom” and it’s been a treasured Christmas decoration ever since.

Years later as my kids were growing and moving out of the house, I was searching on e-bay and happened find the exact plastic glitter scene like Mitch had given me. I ordered it – it cost $8, though he had paid 75 cents for mine – and put it away with my own.

This was the year I gave it to him. He bought his first home in late November; he and Katie have been busy painting and decorating for Christmas and making it their own.

I look at it in the candlelight and am filled with wonder and awe at what it represents. I don’t even know how to put it into words, exactly, or why I wanted to tell the story except that in spite of my personal struggles and questions I do know that I have been deeply blessed throughout my life, beyond measure and explanation. I don’t know why; I don’t know how I can express my gratitude to such a generous God. I hope my children come to understand how blessed they are as well, and to love and desire the LORD with all of their hearts and minds and souls.

And I pray very sincerely that all people can find a quiet moment to be thankful and to adore the child that came to us; to be grateful for Mary and Joseph saying “yes” to God.

I hope we all appreciate the gestures of love we receive and recognize that sometimes extravagant love is expressed by little plastic glittery figures.

He is both, He is all

The book I’m reading¹ shows Jesus as a very tender, intimate friend.

My scripture reading² last night shows Him as fierce judge, waging war in righteousness with fiery eyes and he himself will “tread out in the wine press the wine of the fury and wrath of God the almighty.”

I know Jesus as a tender, personal and intimate friend to whom I can pour out my heart and with whom I can laugh and be filled. I run into our Father’s arms for comfort and protection. I seek the Holy Spirit to guide me, teach me, advise me.

When I read passages about His power and fury and wrath, I wonder if I will be fearful of Him. I wonder if I have created an image of Him that is more in my own mind than it is reality. And I wonder if it’s like a child who experiences her father as very tender and loving at home while his enemies experience him as powerful and destructive on the battlefield.

The Bible depicts Jesus in many distinct, opposite ways:
The lion … and the lamb
The king of kings and lord of lords … and the suffering servant of all
Ruling with a steel rod … and taking care to not break the bruised reed.
He is creator & commander of great clashes of thunder, seas that roar, and quakes that level mountains … as well as fragile flowers, rainbows, and delicate flakes of frost.
God … and man

I think I do need to take care not to create a god in my own image. I can learn much about God by reading the Bible and believing He is everything it says He is, even when I find it fearful and I don’t fully understand what it means. And I also can trust what I know from my relationship with Him … He is indeed my intimate and tender friend, comforter, teacher.

And I think no matter how well I now Him and how close He draws me, I barely know Him at all. He is so much more than any man can fathom or dream.

While I think it’s good to ponder and wrestle with these things sometimes, I still laugh out loud when I think of the passage He gave me one time when I was demanding an answer:

What is too sublime for you, seek not.
Into things beyond your strength, search not.
What is committed to you, attend to;
for what is hidden is not your concern. (Sirach 4:20-22)

¹He and I by Gabrielle Bossis
²Revelation 19:11-16

Sacrifice Unseen

This reflection from today’s Give Us This Day magazine brought me to tears. It seemed a direct and personal Word of comfort and guidance for me from the LORD:

“The Lord addresses His mother in the hour that, for her, is the hardest. She is not unprepared for this hour, but the hour does not therefore weigh any less heavily upon her. For it is now that she gives her beloved Son back to God. She does this in darkness …

“A sacrifice that is performed in full view would not be a Christian sacrifice. If a man renounces some lower good for the sake of some higher one that he knows and has in view, then that is no sacrifice but only a choice between two goods, one of which appears more important than the other.

“But if he renounces some good that he loves in order that God might receive what he desires, then that implies a true sacrifice, because he does not know what form God will give to that which he offers him. The sacrifice lies in surrendering the ability to hold this in view.”

Adrienne von Speyr, The Birth of the Church

It gives me much to ponder.

 

A Moment

It’s been two months since our trip to Portland and the wedding. I wrote description to my friend after we got back:

I had a moment one day when we were walking downtown – all the kids were quite a ways ahead and I was hanging back with Julie (my sister-in-law) who couldn’t keep up. As I watched the kids ahead, I had an overwhelming feeling of being blessed – like a pitcher of water being poured over my head filled with blessings, overflowing.

Suddenly, like a switch, as the kids got further ahead of us and further away, I felt overwhelming sorrow at my loss of them. It’s a little hard to explain but God has gently been removing them from my life for quite a few years now and I’ve learned to surrender them to Him.

But in that moment, I realized He’s not done yet and I have to let go even more. It makes me so sad but Jesus, I trust in You.

I’m still pondering that experience and what it might mean. I don’t suppose I’ll really know until everything unfolds in due time.

But Jesus, I do trust in You. Lord, help my unbelief.