Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transparent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world. ~ Sara Ban Breathnach

Saturday, December 17, 2011

God With Us

God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them. ~ Isaac, a Mennonite Pastor

You will have to excuse me if I have posted this song, God With Us, by Todd Agnew before.  It is one of my favorites, so I watch for videos that use its lyrics.  Plus, many artists have used scenes from The Nativity so I get confused on what I have shared where. : )

God with us, Immanuel.

During recent weeks I have journaled my thoughts, my questions, my insights around this truth of Christmas.  God came to reside WITH us.  Immanuel.  Still, it is difficult to discover God within the pain, the despair, the suffering of life.  Of both my life, lives within the communities nearby, and lives of those I only see from a distance on TV.

A wordle expresses this Biblical truth, God With Us.

So, as a pastor, as a seeker....I hold both.  The despair and the pain along with the truth as found in scripture, Immanuel, God with us.

In his Advent sermon, Pastor Isaac uses two edgy quotes of a monk by the name of Sebastian Moore that give me thoughts to consider as I struggle with the tension of what I see and the truth I read.
Christ is present to us insofar as we are present to one another. It’s a call to receive God’s love from one another, and to be present, to make Christ’s love available—to wait, and watch, and hope that Christ will come in and through us.
The second challenge of Moore's:

...look forward to the point when the whole mystery of God will be known in the clasp of your brother [or sister’s] hand. But when we feel those hands, as we pass the peace, we must also remember that the One we worship has holes in his hands. Yes, Christ has come to us, but he is also standing with holes in his hands, awaiting our discovery.
(sigh...) Discovering Immanuel, God with Me, in the messiness, the pain, the discomfort of life.

I am certain I have journaled (verses just "thinking" it) that I believe we, the Church, tend to sugar coat, to romanticize, the Christmas story. My prayer has been that during this season of waiting, Advent, I might look deeper into this familiar story with all its familiar characters and discover Immanuel in a new way.

Many Blessings ~ Sandi 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Unexpected Gifts

Christmas presents. Gifts bestowed and received. Maybe a surprise or two. You, the Gift surpassing all other gifts, bring us more than we might expect. Presents that did not make our list, something to wear on the inside of us such as truth, generosity, patience, reconciliation, and respect for one another. Each Christmas, another gift of growth. What will you gift us with this year? ~ Joyce Rupp, Fragments of Your Ancient Name

Such a strange way to save the world...

Gifts bestowed and received...Presents that did not make our list, something to wear on the "inside" of us...

Chapter 6, What Do You Want?, begins with an unexpected gift in the midst of a tiring ordinary day and, even though Ann has spent much time recording gifts, she needed a loving presence to redirect her gaze from the ordinariness to help her see the extravagant gift a mere two steps away.
His whisper brushes the curl of my ear, "When I saw it, I knew you'd want it too."...he who made vows to a woman and chaser. No - he didn't actually make vows to that woman. But this is the woman I am becoming. That eucharisteo is making me - fulfilling thanks vows to God. I am starved and the feast makes me wild. Because really, who gets to touch the moon? Tonight, she's close. I might. (Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts, p 104)
Racing across the field, camera in hand, Ann runs, laughing...drinking in all that is and she celebrates the realization that she IS STILL a child.
Who am I to see glory with unveiled face? Is that what the child seeks? Is that why I escape motherhood at the dinner hour, because I can't see the glory there, here, right in the moment? Still? And me slowing for the hunt, looking for even one thousand gifts, sanctuaries in moments, seeking the fullest life that births out of the darkest emptiness, all the miracle of eucharisteo. (Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts, p 105)
I am wondering who helps me to notice graces and gifts I might otherwise miss.

As I wonder I believe that it may be the Grands, who step into life ready to discover and ready to be surprised.

A small child.  One of the most vulnerable and even insignificant members of our society, it is they who help me to notice.

How I wish we could not push that sense of wonder, of vulnerability from a child's heart by burdening him with the world's stuff.  Yet, there is hope for me, for all children, that we can grow up, regardless of how old and wise we might be, we can grow up and regain a sense of that wonder....within the smallest and most ordinary moments.

Ann too thinks how after all she has learned, how she is still learning...still growing...
Yes - maybe that woman-child. The one who lives her life in circles, discovering entering into, forgetting and losing, findin her way round again, living her life in layers - deeper, round further in. I know eucharisteo and the miracle. But I am not a woman who ever lives the full knowing. I am a wondering Israelite who sees the flame in the sky above, the pillar, the smoke from the mountain, the earth open up and give way, and still I forget. (Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts, p 106)
Oh, does this confession easy my own seeking/forgetting heart! For I too know, and yet still I forget!!!

Once again a reminder that I can discover myself within the ancient stories of these living scriptures.
I empty of truth and need the refilling. I need come again every day - bend, clutch, and remember - for who can gather the manna but once, hoarding, and store away sustenance in the mind for all the living?(Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts, p 106)
If I am like the ancient Israelites wandering.

If I depend upon others to help me to discover and feast upon the manna given.

Who do I walk beside?

How do I help them to discover and to feast?

For I am not called to journal my gifts and hoard them, I am called to celebrate my discoveries with others so that together we might feast.  That is why God came to live among us - Emmanuel.

Jesus came for me.

Still, he is not my gift to hoard.  I am called to announce his coming....the gift of his presence.

Lord, help me to discover those unexpected gifts, those gifts that have not made my list, those gifts that are like manna, gifts that are "you" within my day and then help me to share the gift of your presence among, within, and between all that is within this life. By your Spirit, help me to grow back to being like a child.  AMEN.

Many Blessings ~ Sandi

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

All is grace.

Take time to be holy. The word 'holy' does not mean 'goody-goody'; it means set apart for sacred use. That is what these quiet moments in My Presence are accomplishing within you....This process requires blocks of time set aside for communion with Me. ~ Sarah Young, Jesus Calling

A needed reminder this morning as busy days continue... Busy days that contain "good" things, yet if I don't allow Jesus to be born through me within my encounters, I fear they are only empty encounters.

In her devotion book, Fragments of Your Ancient Name, Joyce Rupp writes:
Words, words, words, and more words, 
Spoken, written, throughout history and life. 
None can compare with you, the Word, 
A message complete and all-encompassing, 
Sent forth to humanity from the Great Heart 
T speak the completeness of all words: Love. 
O Word of the Holy, your message is alive, 
Written in covenantal script never to be erased. 
May each common word coming forth from me 
Echo the magnificent love of you, the one Word.
In Chapter 5, What in the grace?, Ann writes of a time when her world is turned upside down with the words,
 Levi's hand went through a fan in the barn!" (Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts, p 80)
Hard eucharisteo, times for which it is difficult, gut wrenching, to offer up gratitud.  A horrific accident, the death of a loved one, a senseless act of violence....

As she continues writing her thoughts through this experience and as she remembers other such times, the truth that what she sees, she sees through her lens of perspective.
Only the Word is the answer to rightly reading the world because The Word has nail-scarred hands that cup our face close, wipe away the tears running down, has eyes to look deep into our brimming ache, and whisper, 'I know. I know'. (Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts, p 87)
Ann comes to the realization that life is not a mix of grace moments and curse moments, but that all of life is grace - an "ugly/beautiful" paradox in which God is always present and always at world, no matter how difficult the circumstance.
Le laid peut etre beau - The ugly can be beautiful. The dark can give birth to life; suffering can deliver grace. (Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts, p 99)
Thomas Aquinas defined beauty as id quod visum placet - beauty as that which being seen, pleases. If all the work of transfiguring the ugly into the beautiful please God, it is a work of beauty. Thus, holding such a realization, Ann asks me to consider:
Is there anything in this world that is truly ugly? That is a curse? (Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts, p 99)
I've been working on my sermon for this coming Sunday, the text is Luke 2:1-20 but I've backed up a bit and have thought about the events that led up to Luke 2 and what it meant for Mary to say, "Let it be with me just as you say." (Luke 1:38)  When she agreed to this plan of God's, her life became complicated....  Big time complicated.

As I have thought of all these words and images, of Voskamp, Luke, Job... I have held the truth that suffering has nourished grace in my life and that pain and joy are arteries of the same heart - that mourning and dancing are but movements in God's symphony of beauty.

When I stay focused on The Word, I know within my heart that it is my perspective that labels something as being "good or bad".  That in this world, God is always good and that regardless of my circumstances...I am ALWAYS loved.

That means everything....EVERYTHING is eucharisteo.

I am reminded of this truth every time I come to The Table.  At The Table I am reminded... I am told TO REMEMBER... that out of pain and suffering God transformed the world.

All is grace only because God does transfigure.

O Lord, I may read and write these truths...I hold them....yet it is only by your Spirit that I can "live" this truth as I walk through this world that, when I see though "my" lens, holds so much pain. Help me today to see through your eyes, through the lens of your Word. AMEN!!

This week I am focusing on Mary and her response to take part in God's plan, but Joseph.... Joseph is often a forgotten character in this transforming event.  Michael Card offers a wonderful song...that is one of my favorite songs of Christmas.

Oh...might I be able to surrender and trust God to work through the things that seem "bad/painful/despairing..."

Many Blessings ~ Sandi

Monday, December 12, 2011

Breath of Heaven

My computer got left at the church office yesterday.  I had planned to return to the church, but after my last call of the afternoon....I simply forgot and headed home.

When I got home I discovered my PC isn't able to connect to the Internet....  Sunday was one long and interesting day. : )

I'm at the office this morning, with a lot of work waiting, several worship services coming up, a good possibility of two funerals in the near future, and a surgery this afternoon. all the stuff coming up with/for my family.

As I drove to the church this morning, thinking about all that is coming up, this song came to mind.  It became a prayer as I held each phrase.

I am waiting in a silent prayer.

I am frightened by the load I you wonder if a wiser one should have had my with me now.

Such wonderful words.  Such a poignant prayer for I am called to bring Christ into all the places I step today.

Many Blessings ~ Sandi

Friday, December 9, 2011

Today....Respond with Gratitude

A wonderful video to hold during this weekend...this two weeks before Christmas weekend!  Can you believe it?

Many Blessings ~ Sandi

All life comes out of bleakness.

When the desire to go forward lessens, When the brightness of insight dims, When the hope of fining a way fails, It is then that I enter into your darkness And I find a nest in your sheltering womb. Entering the hushed cave of your heart I abide in the shadow of your presence, Tuning toward that which is not seen But known in faith, accepted with hope. Resting there, I am enveloped in your love. ~ Joyce Rupp,  Fragments of Your Ancient Name

Another of my favorite songs of Christmas, Mary, Did You Know?

Yesterday I listened to a K-LOVE DJ tell of decorating her first Christmas tree as an independent adult. It was beautiful and "perfect".  She was excited to show others her beautiful tree. Eventually she married, had a family.... and she has allowed her small children to decorate the tree. : )

You guessed it, this tree is not the tree she decorated "before kids".  She admitted this tree is not the "perfect" tree of her younger days. But then,  as she concluded her story she said,
"In the messiness, there you find perfection."
Jesus, when being tempted in the wilderness, said, "It is written..."

Ann Voskamp writes,
And it's the Word of God that turns the rocks in the mouth to loves on the tongue. That fills our emptiness with the true and real good, that makes the yes see, the body full of light. (AnnVoskamp, One Thousand Gifts, p 96)
Messiness.  Bleakness.  Despair. Sorrow. Darkness....Have you ever thought that new life come out of such places, and hasn't it always been so?

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. ~ Genesis 1
Ann writes:
All new life labors out of the very bowels of darkness...Out of the darkness of the cross, the world transfigures into new life. And there is no other way. (AnnVoskamp, One Thousand Gifts, p 96)
In yesterday's video Mary was shown as "bearing down".   It is suffering/bleakness/imperfection... that has the realest possibility to bear down and deliver grace.

I have read stories of such grace being delivered and I have experienced receiving such grace.  It has been within my brokenness that I have been able to turn toward God, the one who give such grace, and in that grace I have discovered the fullness of joy.

Mary, did you know....

In the midst of suffering, it is difficult to know that grace/new being formed within me and around me as the Spirit of God hovers......

Ephesians 1:11 says,

11-12It's in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.
He's working out everything and everyone....

Ummmm, I've been journaling about eyesight and perspective.  I want to focus on the same Word Jesus focused on that enabled him to stay focused on Truth while in the wilderness as I work and live through my own wilderness experiences.  I'm thinking that in some ways "life" is a wilderness experience and it is my choice on what I choose to focus.

I can focus on the questions, the fear, the worry...the despair, the "whys" or I can focus on the Truth that tells me the Spirit of God hovers within, among, between...working out everything and everyone.  I can focus on that which brings new life out from the questions.....from that which seems to be total bleakness.....  New Life!

During this season of Advent, of anticipation.... I want to do my best to wear the lens of that Word on which Jesus focused and as I strive to do this, I pray that I might see.  Who knows when angels might appear in the sky announcing Great News?  : )

I do not want to be so preoccupied with "stuff" that I might miss seeing, hearing....

Many Blessings ~ Sandi