Where Light Plays

There was a time in my life when I’d look at the idyllic scenes in the lives of others, I’d see their seeming peace, and I’d seek to copy the circumstances of that peace in my own life. If I had the same pitcher…If I baked the same bread…wore the same costume, then maybe, just maybe…

But therein lies the problem, when we try to get our marching orders by comparing our life to others instead of from the Captain of our Salvation. Besides the fact that each believer is a unique reflection of God’s glory with their own gifts and talents, we all also have our own race to run, and the places of our starting lines and finish lines vary.  There are scriptural principles that apply to everybody’s situation, but only One Spirit that knows how and when to apply them to the lives of individual believers. Sanctification is not instantaneous, and we run a risk of shipwrecking each other, or ourselves, when we expect uniformity.

The image I’ve added to this post is a painting by Vermeer. The other day I was looking at it and realized, the artist wasn’t particularly trying to capture the circumstances of the individual, but rather the play of the light. Vermeer was all about the light, and we should be to.

The play of the light is why it is said that Mary, sitting at Jesus’ feet, choose the better thing. A life of inner illumination is the basis, is the bedrock foundation, of biblical submission. For the monk, the wife, the priest, the miller, the miller’s daughter, for all christian children and ministers of the gospel in every place:the subject of the scene is the play of the light.

Contemplation is one way we can stop and see the play of light in our own life and circumstances. It may be as simple as taking a moment in nature to hear the testimony of sunshine. It could be  intentional moments  throughout the day meditating on the words of a favorite scripture passage, or writing a list of things we are thankful for. However we do it, we stop in the midst of whatever we are doing to acknowledge the ever present, all sustaining hand of God.

And suddenly, we don’t need to feel like it all relies on us, or one some other savior  we’ve put in the place of Christ. A person attuned to the voice of the Beloved can thrive in any place, in any circumstance. Without that inner acknowledgment of goodness and presence, even sweet things will seem sour.

In the moment, in every moment, this truth remains, and light plays in every place where it is acknowledged: the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

 

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Ora et Labora

The phrase comes from the old monastic practice of praying while working. Easier to do when you are washing dishes or gardening, a bit more challenging when the “work” is more people intensive. There is a reason Jesus pulled away from the crowds at times to pray. Throughout the gospels the tension shows up in his life again and again, this pull towards both the crowds of people and time away to pray.

“Work and pray, work and pray”. It’s the refrain running through my head as I drag myself out of bed for another marathon day (And who was the smartie who scheduled a bunch of kids ministry things and appointments for the same week. Yep. The fact that this week has been a marathon has been entirely my own doing. And yet, mercy even finds me here, where others make up for my lack.)

My quiet times are rushed. I’ve skipped my morning walk, and the time to think all the thinks. I haven’t taken the time to read insightful books, to journal, to pray quietly.  (and o gosh, I really should be cutting out crafts right now). And yes, as I write this I recognize that I could have followed Jesus’s example and dragged my butt out of bed an hour earlier.

I feel it, the darkness and overwhelm scrunching in around the edges. The regret for everything I’m not doing well this week. The hypersensitivity that clues me in that I’m functioning in a weird, wired place. The need to come home, sit, and just have a good cry. (Did you know that tears are how we excrete stress hormones from our bodies? Tears are good. Very good. Literally healing. The problem comes when we don’t cry.)

So this week, besides taking to heart a lesson about not over scheduling, it is time to add a few new disciplines.  A singing discipline. A not judging discipline. A remembering discipline.

Instead of trying to control things, showing up with compassion.

Instead of worrying about all I cannot do,doing  what I can with a song in my heart and trust God for the rest (and the Rest).

Remembering Jesus, the Beloved, on whom God’s favor rests. Remembering that He has called me His own, and that in Christ I live in that same favor with God. Remembering that this is true for us all. That we are all the Beloved and favored by God, through the work of Christ.

Ora et Labora.

A Child’s Incantation

BEGIN, BEGAT, BEGONE

the meadow is alive

and calls, but will not

PERMIT, ADMIT, SUBMIT

to

the gaudy clothes of

make believe.

and I’ve forgotten what lies beneath

so

UNTIE, UNWIND, UNMASK

the coat of many colors

(it’s cloud castles blush in the presence of a simple flower)

WREST. WRETCH, WRING

the baton from my cleaving fists

and take this clever angled hat

WILT, WIPE, WASH

off

these silly slippers.

Oh! but my feathers are gone!

Those flashy flirts fly right off!

without

GRAVITY, GRAVITAS, GRAVING

but I AM

Gravid

Pregnant with a Self

Bursting at unseemly seams

SEE

What I have done to this humble shift?

torn

tattered

and twisted

O I AM!

BLOW, BREATH, BIRTH

what was, what is, what is to come

MAKE, MARK, MEND

a meadow child again

 

 

Life Further Up and Further In

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”- Acts 1:8

A lot has changed in the past year.

This time last year, I was working on a home study as we contemplated  taking another placement, considering returning to school, and overwhelmed with planning the details of our church’s summer literacy program.

All of this was always part of this dream we’d had. Part of the vision for our lives, our little piece of the commission to “Go into all the world…”. That we’d raise children, home school, foster, work with families, be involved in bringing the light of the gospel to our community. We’d gotten away from it. Gotten overwhelmed. Stopped fostering, became inwardly focused. My world shrank, and the smaller it got, the more overwhelmed I was. I would go through the motions each day, but my heart and mind and strength were not engaged.

Although it seemed crazy, we felt like the Lord was leading us to move forward with all of these different things. Let me tell you, He supernaturally met us this year and made a lot of things possible, more than I could ever ask or imagine.

We took another kid. There was an adjustment period. There always is. I grew up in a family that was involved in foster care, and looking back, I am truly thankful for those formative experiences, and for the mission mindset it instilled in me.

I went back to school, and found the classes I am taking to be healing, restorative, and challenging to my faith. It also gave my mind something to engage with, other than this endless loop of worry. Engaging my mind in this way helped me to become more connected to my reality, and to taking necessary steps to deal with the things I struggled with, rather than just glossing them over.

Thanks to an amazing, mission minded church family, the summer literacy program happened well. With the additional perspectives on how to do this better, it is becoming a well oiled machine, and not something I spend all spring worrying about.

I worried that the kids school would suffer with how busy we’ve been. We’ve continued to home school five of our six our kids. We are involved in a homeschooling cooperative and part of a vibrant homes school community. We did standardized testing a couple of weeks ago, and it went well. They are all at or well above where they should be in every subject area.

Today, piano music plays as I write. We have lessened our school load as we work with helping my Mom transition to her own new and good things. We have lots to plan and prepare for in our extended family this month, graduations and weddings and all sorts of lovely May things.

This is a good land, but we must keep going. This is only our Jerusalem. Further up and further in!

Psalm 61

Hear my cry, O God;
    listen to my prayer.

From the ends of the earth I call to you,
    I call as my heart grows faint;
    lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
For you have been my refuge,
    a strong tower against the foe.

I long to dwell in your tent forever
    and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.[b]
For you, God, have heard my vows;
    you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.

Increase the days of the king’s life,
    his years for many generations.
May he be enthroned in God’s presence forever;
    appoint your love and faithfulness to protect him.

Then I will ever sing in praise of your name
    and fulfill my vows day after day.

A Crash Course in Contemplative Prayer for Busy, Twitchy Protestants

I struggle with anxiety. Less today than I did one year ago, or five years ago, but I still have my days. I struggle in spite of the truth that I know: that God’s Presence is all around me. That the Holy Spirit is a person who will never leave  or forsake me. His comfort is available to me at every moment of every day, if I will only hear Him.

Years ago, I was selected to lead a group of teens overseas on a mission trip and head up their evangelism efforts. A wise friend knew how far above my pay grade this was and gave me some good advice. “Kimmy,” he said, “you are going to get overwhelmed. It’s going to happen. When it does, I want to go to you room, close the door, put your head in your pillow and pray. You stay and pray until you are not overwhelmed anymore”.

It was good advice. Prayer automatically disciplines our minds toward peace, and brings us to a place of recognition of the Presence of God. The Catholic mystics were on to something, as are our Pentecostal brothers and sisters who “tarry” in prayer.

Contemplative prayer is generally silent prayer, focused mostly on God Himself and becoming aware of His Presence. Definitely something that is still trial and error for me, but in case it wasn’t a big part of the faith tradition you grew up in, here are a few things to try:

 

Worship

There are a few songs and psalms that instantly set my mind straight. The first strains just put me in  a place mentally where I can experience God’s presence and love for me. I was walking in the grocery store today and walked past a man humming an old gospel favorite. My heart was instantly uplifted, and I spent the rest of the morning humming that same song.

Walk

Getting out into nature often bring me to a place of awareness. I am learning to immerse myself in the moment: feeling the warmth of the sun on my skin, hearing the river, differentiating the birdcalls, noticing the play of light on the leaves. My breathing slows. I become aware of His Goodness all around me.

Meditation

This is a newer one, for me. The idea is to totally immerse oneself in a story or passage of scripture, noticing your responses and reactions with curiosity. Why does the story of the money changers make me uncomfortable? What is God teaching me in this? What can I learn from my response?

One of the books I am reading now is a book of spiritual exercises by Ignatius of Loyola. It’s intense. The dude spends an entire week encouraging one to meditate on the foulness of their own sin. Not something most American Protestants do a lot of, but surprisingly, if done in the presence of a loving Heavenly Father, capable of turning the heart towards love and gratitude.

Thankfulness

Speaking of gratitude…there was this one season of overwhelm when, every time I’d complain to God about how HARD my life was, the song “Count Your Blessings” would come on the radio. EVERY. STINKING. TIME.I didn’t really see what one thing had to do with the other, but over time my prayers changed a little. Psalm 100 says to “enter His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise”. When I start to list the things I am thankful for, I often become more aware of God’s work in my life and more aware of Him.

Tongues

Expressing the unutterable back to God. Not everyone has this gift, but it is an option for some. It’s in the Bible. MRI Studies have shown that the practice directly accesses the limbic (emotional) part of the brain, in a similar way that dreams access the subconscious. A study done in England also reported that clergy who practice this tend to have lower levels of depression.

Quiet and Stillness

“You will keep Him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you”(Isaiah 26:3)I know one or two mature Christians who excel at this. They are peaceful just to be around, and they bring a sense of God’s presence wherever they go. Maybe someday when I grow up…and become less of a frenetic ball of giddy spasticity…

Anyway, these few practices are just the tip of the iceberg, and I’ve got to run…

 

Emmaus

The story is familiar. Two men, who have seen and heard of the great deeds of Christ, encounter Him after His Resurrection, but don’t recognize Him. He walks with them a ways on the road, explaining the significance of what they have seen and heard. Jesus breaks bread with them, and their eyes are opened. They have encountered the Risen Christ, the Savior of the world!

The story is familiar. She grew up in church, and was a faithful Sunday school attendee. Faith grew over time, conforming her to the image of Christ. Still she wonders, could there be something more?

The story is familiar. She didn’t grow up in church, but had an encounter with God that radically changed her life. She jumped with both feet, or maybe she didn’t. Maybe life just happened, and somewhere along the way, those flames of first love became a smoldering ember. She asks herself: is this all there is?

I read a story in scripture today about a fig tree that stopped bearing fruit. It was the season for fig trees to bear fruit, but this stubborn tree just produced copious amounts of leaves. Jesus cursed the tree, and it died.

We were made for encounter with God. Not just one time, but a daily, faith filled walk with Jesus Christ. We are called to bear fruit, both in our own character and in how we reflect God’s glory to the world. Every Christian is called to bear faithful witness to a Risen Savior of the world both in word and in deed. The result of this witness bearing should be growing churches, acts of mercy and justice, and an increase in the rule and influence of Christ throughout the land. Our own might and power cannot bring these things about, but only a work of the Holy Spirit.

If this is not the case in our lives, if this is not the case in our churches, then the question we need to ask is this: when did we last walk the road to Emmaus? When did we last encounter the Risen Christ? Could we grow closer to Him, and learn to hear his voice even better?

On a practical level: How much time are we spending in bible study and in prayer? Are we growing in our faith? Are we responding in repentance when the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin? Are we fully trusting in Christ every hour of every day?

Faith is not a one time commitment or a habit of performing certain acts. In the words of a very old hymn:

Faith is a living pow’r from Heav’n
That grasps the promise God hath giv’n,
A trust that cannot be o’erthrown,
Fixed heartily on Christ alone.

Faith finds in Christ whate’er we need
To save or strengthen us indeed,
Receives the grace He sends us down,
And makes us share His cross and crown.

Faith in the conscience worketh peace,
And bids the mourner’s weeping cease;
By faith the children’s right we claim,
And call upon our Father’s name.

Faith feels the Spirit’s kindling breath
In love and hope that conquer death;
Faith worketh hourly joy in God,
And trusts and blesses e’en the rod.

Image Bearing

“God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created Him, male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27 NKJV) We are created in the image of God. This has been understood in several different ways. We are like God in that we are capable of relationship. We are like God in our function, He has given use dominion over the earth, to care for it. Most importantly, and this is the traditional view held by the church, we are created in some psychological, physical or spiritual way that mirrors God. This image of God is true for all mankind, male and female, redeemed and not. God’s stamp upon humanity is independent of our ability, power, or wealth. Every human being is created in the image of God. Every human being is charged with some aspect of dominion or stewardship, and every human being is made for relationship with God, but even at our most feeble, reprobate and inept we still reflect a little of God’s glory.

How does this apply to my life, today?

First, both men and women are created in God’s image and given the dominion mandate. Both men and women are called to relationship. My husband is not a mediator between me and Jesus Christ, I must seek God as well. Practically it also means that some of the “how” of the dominion mandate is left up to us. If it some point my husband’s disability progresses to the point where he is unable to work, it is a matter of Christian liberty and common sense that I work outside of the home.

Second, and this also treads into the doctrines of sin and salvation, every human being has equal value to God. (We see this in that He requires an account for the lifeblood of all men) We do not know which ones will ultimately be redeemed, nor do we have any way of knowing. Though we are responsible to teach our children and “make them wise for salvation”, salvation is a work of the Holy Spirit and not dependent on the home in which we were raised. We see examples of this again and again in scripture, where the sons of the household remain stiff-necked out side of the gate while Gentiles, foreigners and prostitutes inherit the kingdom.  No parenting or educational method guarantees godly offspring. Because my children are Christ’s servants and reflect his image, I am free to disciple rather than seek to control, to steward rather than dominate.

Third, because I am free to see Christ in all and leave the work of salvation to Him rather than specific parenting methods, I am free to welcome the orphan into my home, in Jesus name. I am free to love traumatized kids and let God sort out how they turn out, even if the journey is messy. Properly understanding the image of God motivates me to live out Matthew 25:26, and see Christ in the prisoner, the naked and the sick. It turns my eyes out towards the harvest, rather then towards some external means of earning salvation.

The ways that we Love

I am convinced that, at least for most healthy individuals, we are attracted to people who will love us in the ways that we need to be loved. Maybe not perfectly. But love is so much more than chocolates and flowers, more than just 5 love languages.

The picture accompanying this was taken over eleven years ago, at our first child’s baptism, at a time we were just dipping our toes into this whole parenting thing, two years after the “I am my Beloved’s” wedding invitations went out. Back when marriage was one part reality and three parts idealistic dreams.

Six kids, a bunch of home repairs, major and minor illnesses, and a whole lot of drama later: I’ve learned that I married the right person.  I married the person who loves me in the ways that I need to be loved.  I married a man who will listen to me, even when I am over-analyzing every aspect of every thing. I married someone who will join me in my flights of fancy,  is supportive of my crazy schemes, who meets my over enthusiasm with insightful replies rather than criticisms or dimissals. Providentially, I married the person I needed.

And he married me. Someone who will do the things so that he can think his thoughts. Someone who pushes him, remains optimistic in spite of setbacks, and shakes him out of his sober inclinations. Someone who will support his reading habit, appreciate his philosophical meanderings, and will listen to conspiracy theories.

So this Valentines Day, I got him a book on the history of philosophy, and he listened to me deconstruct simple statements for all of their implied meaning. I found him a new book bag, and he watched the kids so that I could go to the gym.

I am my Beloved’s and he is mine. And it is still one part reality, three parts idealism. We are not opposites, but we are both alike and different in enough ways to work well together.  The ways that we love are small and simple and romantic only in sense that we dream of windmill dragons, but they, also, are love.

Abiding Again

Around this time last year, I spent a lot of time thinking about what it means to “Abide in Christ”. It was my word of the year, last year

Since then, a lot of things have happened. So much, really. I saw my sister radically transformed by the gospel. We acquired another kid, one with a lot of trauma. God provided for me to go back to school. I began to sift and sort through some of my ideas and experiences about who God is and how He works.

This is something I wrote for a class last week.

In John 15, Jesus commands his disciples to abide in Him, but was does that mean?

Paul compares our union with Christ to the mystery of marriage. In marriage, two become one, yet they are still distinct individuals. The Bible talks in many places about Christ being in us and us being in Him. Union with Christ has bearing on every aspect of salvation, because they all happen “in Christ”. We are blessed with every spiritual blessing “in Christ” (Eph 1:3) we are chosen before the foundation of the world “”in Him” (Eph 1:5), we are accepted “in Him”.We “put on Christ” and when the Father sees us, He sees his sinless son. In Christ alone are we are justified.

Secondly, we are joined to Christ through the Holy Spirit. We have an intimate relationship with God. We have the mind of Christ, and the same Spirit that searches the deep things of God testifies to our hearts and minds of Christ and our Father’s good will. We have the Holy Spirit, the spirit of Christ, as our Comforter, mentor and guide. He is distinct from us, yet continually guiding, convicting, cultivating and making us more like Christ.  I think this is best reflected in Christ’s example of the vine and the branches. Here is particular bearing in our understanding of salvation and the Father’s discipline of His children. Though nothing with separate us from the love of God, He will continue to prune and cultivate us, drawing us closer to Himself, enabling us to bear more fruit. One of my class texts calls this relational obedience.

Third, and related, the life of Christ gives life to us, causing us to bear spiritual fruit. In Christ, the same power that rose Him from the dead is at work in us, raising us from corruptible to incorruptible.

Union with Christ means that we are counted as righteous for Christ’s sake. We live by His strength. We suffer with Him and for His sake, and one day we will be raised and reign with Him.

It also means that our salvation has more to do with relationship than a system of belief or outward signs.