I have long been intrigued by a story in the book of Genesis. It is the story of Jacob, in obedience to his father, traveling toward Haran to obtain a wife from his mother’s people. Jacob had a dream (Genesis 28:10-22) in which it was clearly revealed that God was with him. It was a promise of blessing. When Jacob awoke from his sleep he cried out, using words that have become a prayer for me: Truly Yahweh is in this place and I did not know it. Then he took the stone he had used for a pillow, poured oil over it and acknowledging the holiness of the place where God had visited him, marked that place as a memorial—a place of remembrance.
Jacob transforms his stone pillow into an altar. Rituals such as these can be good for the soul. I have no doubt that there are many places where God has visited you and you did not know it.
I, for one,
would rather have a stone
for an altar
than a pillow.
Are their places in your life where God once seemed absent: moments of fear, doubt, brokenness, sorrow, darkness, sin, misunderstandings, discouragement, anger, and guilt? You, too, can wake up and after a period of reflection and prayer, cry out: Truly Yahweh was in this place and I did not know!
There are also times when we fail to recognize moments of grace. We are standing knee-deep in gifts from God and do not acknowledge these gifts are heaven-sent. We fail to recognize the moment of God’s visitation. There are moments of beauty, wonderful accomplishments, joyful celebrations, affirmations and inspirations. We can also stand before these moments with the realization: Truly Yahweh was in this place and I did not know!
So why not build a memorial altar representing the moments of God’s visitation, the moments we almost missed.
Pick up your stones one by one, each stone a prayer:
BUILD YOUR ALTAR
TRULY YAHWEH WAS IN THIS PLACE AND I DID NOT KNOW!
I am sitting with my first cup of coffee looking out into a green forest with lake waters wrapped around me. This is the beginning of my morning prayer. It is a lovely spot and yet I have discovered that no matter how beautiful the setting one has to wait for Spirit to show up. In all prayer and especially in personal prayer, waiting is an essential part of the prayer. I am remembering the readings for the Feast of Ascension, which is now long past. The text from Luke 24: 49 refused to leave me this year. I still hear the echo of the words in various translations and versions...
Stay here and wait until you are clothed with power from on high...
Remain here in the city until you are robed with power from on high...
Stay here in the city until you are armed with power from above...
You must tarry in the city until you are invested with power from on high...
As I reflect on these words it occurs to me that Jesus' request for the disciples to remain waiting for the Holy Spirit could also apply to our personal prayer. This is what I hear now when I sit down for my quiet prayer. In various ways Jesus' advice comes to me. Remain here and wait! Perhaps that is the invitation of every daily personal prayer. Forget your pleading words about what God should do for you during this time of prayer. Just remain here and wait for God to robe you in power from on high. 'From on high" need not necessarily mean from the skies. The earth, too, is holy! For me, 'from on high' means beyond your little self. Remain here. Stay here. Wait here. Wait until you can see something beyond your self.
It always happens. When I am willing to simply BE in the Presence of God without a lot of words, something lifts in my poor spirit and a great Spirit visits me. Something falls away. Sometimes it is a bit of anxiety, or maybe a piece of envy. Sometimes despair moves over and lets a little hope in the door. Or perhaps, to my amazement, a love I thought had dried up starts flowing again.
BE STILL AND WAIT!
For my prayer this morning I have tried to unpack Jane Hirshfield’s poem about watermelons lying out in a field under the sun and stars, in the rain. Under the weather we might say! The poem is lavish with meaning. Read and pray this poem remembering that the watermelon is you.
Under stars in a field.
They lie under rain in a field
Are like this as well –
Like a painting
Hidden beneath another
An unexpected weight
The sign of their ripeness.
(Alaska Quarterly, Fall & Winter, 208)
I look in the mirror and see my face and I think: this is the face I show to the world and yet when I look deeper there is something more. Something is hidden beneath this face, something beautiful and unharvestable.
I walk through a field and see the watermelons growing there in all kinds of weather. I walk through the food market and see bins of fascinating melons, beautiful in there green striped attire, waiting to be chosen. I imagine the field they once lay in, the stars, sun and moon that shone upon them, the wind that caressed them.
And YES! Jane Hirshfield is right. Hidden beneath that first glimpse of the watermelon there is an exquisite world of scarlet delight—like a painting that hides beneath another painting.
The poet sees! You are not a poet because of what you write but because of how you see. Look in the mirror and wake up to layers of loveliness that you are.
Maybe this is what conversion is: connecting with the invisible face beneath the visible.
Today cherish the painting you are with its many layers of loveliness and loneliness.
A mighty wind swept over the ocean. Genesis 1:2
Perhaps it is because I am deeply feeling the chaos of our world today (even in the midst of Easter songs) that I have turned to the creation story from Genesis for my prayer. A story can be a wondrous container for a truth that must be told. The account of Genesis tells the truth of goodness in all creation. The creation story portrays the love of a creative God lifting beauty and order out of the chaos. Lifting life out of chaos! God loves life! Oh God, please lift it out again!
Be still now and listen to the mighty wind sweeping over the dark waters. Imagine that the wind is the breath of God. The wind is the spirit of God. We have seen how the wind blows things out of old places into new places.
Slowly the light and darkness emerge. The waters separate; the sky becomes visible. The rhythm of day and night, morning and evening are revealed. The dry lands and the seas appear. And oh that marvelous moment when things begin to grow. The earth makes known her potential to produce fruits, vegetables and all kind of plants--all because of the sun and the moon, the balance of light and darkness. Sometimes we need God to help us lift a little order out of our own chaos. *Is there anything in you that needs to be blown of place?
Loving Creator, in the midst of your creative work you tell the truth of how good it all is!
Easter songs of Alleluia are beginning to cover the earth.
O Christ of all these songs, be in every word we sing.
Breathe over the earth anew and we promise
to breathe over the earth with you.
MAY HEALING COME QUICKLY!
How do we learn to bless the ambiguities of our lives?
They keep us company always even when we don’t acknowledge them. There they are looking into the windows of our souls:
Be STILL FOR A FEW MOMENTS OF MEDITATION
AND PONDER JUST WHAT YOUR AMBIGUITIES ARE:
You bless these moments by naming and claiming them as part of your life. You lean toward them with awareness. Stare them down and discover their hidden goodness. No matter how discouraged you may be, there is a piece of goodness in your life that you’ve not yet named. Perhaps you’ve not named it because you’ve not discovered it. It is, however, a part of you wanting to make itself known. The monk, whose quote I’ve shared above is right. There is something hidden in us and around us that can save us from the angst in our lives if we take the time to get acquainted with this hidden goodness.
We open up the pathway to our hidden goodness by allowing our attitudes to be healed. We open up the pathway by practicing gratitude. Gratitude often helps us perceive what is hidden. Just as we listed our possible ambiguities, let's take a look at our probable goodness. These pieces of goodness are hidden only when we are reluctant to claim them:
O Lover of us all,
Open my eyes to the hidden goodness of life; my life and the life all around me. Teach me how to make a home with my goodness rather than to set up tent with my ambiguities. Encourage me to bless all of my life with your infinite love and presence, as I anoint even my discouragement so as to find my courage. Remind me to anoint everything that it may know a new life.
May it come to pass!
Almost every Lent I ask myself a question that I have begun asking ever since the day I read Gerald May's book, Addiction and Grace. The question is simply, How much energy am I giving to things that are not my true desire? Another way of asking that question might be, What am I clinging to that does not give me life?
WHERE CLINGING TO THINGS ENDS
GOD BEGINS TO BE.
In each of us there is a treasure undiscovered, a love withheld, a light grown dim, a song unsung, an ego to which we cling. There are things to which we are nailed. In her wisdom, Mother Church, gives us the special Season of Lent to assist us in singing the Song of Life more fully. During this season of growing up in Christ, I invite you to prayerfully search your life taking inventory of the things to which you are nailed. Being nailed to something is not a freeing experience. It is a way of living our lives enslaved. We become our own captives. The things we are attached to force us into captivity and enslavement. In his book, Addiction and Grace, Gerald May reminds us that the word attachment comes from the old French, "attache", meaning "nailed to." He suggests that attachment "nails" our desires to specific objects and creates addiction.
When we think of addictions what most likely comes to our minds are drugs and alcohol. These, indeed, are two very common addictions that have stifled the seed of life in many people. For our Lenten homework, however, we are going to turn our thoughts to many of the things we are nailed to that we do not ordinarily consider addictions. To help us in this soul searching examination I am quoting from Gerald May:
"Addiction exists wherever persons are internally compelled to give energy to things that are not their true desires. Addiction sidetracks and eclipses the energy of our deepest, truest desire for love and goodness. We succumb because the energy of our desire becomes attached, nailed, to specific behaviors, objects, or people. Attachment, then, is the process that enslaves desire and creates the state of addiction. (Gerald May)
The words on and surrounding the cross below represent things to which we might be nailed. Meditate on the cross and ask yourself a few questions.
During this enriching season of renewal give yourself the gift of Listening. Listen to the seed within you that wants to take root. Listen to the love with you that has weakened. Listen to the light that has grown dim. Listen to the song that has remained unsung. Listen to the nails that hold you on a cross of your own choosing.
LISTEN TO THE UNDISCOVERED WISDOM IN YOUR OWN HEART.
LISTEN TO THE WISDOM OF LENT!
Surely it isn’t too late to say Happy New Year! I know I’ve been dawdling; however the first month of the year, January, is still with us. I hope it has been a good month for you. As for me, I could handle a little more winter than we are having here in Arkansas. Even though winter is my fourth favorite season I long to experience it to the full. From the news, I gather that some of you could do with a little less winter. We don’t get to choose, do we? The only thing we have control over is our attitude. Or, do we?
I have a practice of choosing a word for each month of the year. My chosen word for this month is see. I was waiting for something more profound and lofty to come along but it didn’t appear. The word 'see' perched on the rim of my glasses and refused to go away, so it has stayed and hopefully will spend a whole year with me--maybe even an entire lifetime. So where is the power in this little word that holds such profound meditative qualities? Practice SEEING and you will experience the power.
SEEING is so much deeper than just looking. It is more all-embracing, all-encompassing, uniting and enfleshing. It is a way of beholding. Many look but do not see. To truly see, you must allow whatever it is you are gazing upon to enter the temple of your being. It becomes flesh in you and you see the way God sees. You are able to see as the poet and the artist sees.
I am almost sure that when Edith Wharton wrote the words below, she was seeing the new day. She wasn't just looking at it. As I reflected on her words, a simple poem arose out of my own seeing.
SET WIDE THE WINDOW. LET ME DRINK THE DAY! --Edith Wharton
SET WIDE THE WINDOW. LET ME DRINK THE DAY! --Edith Wharton
....and now I say the same to you:
Open your window today.
Let it all come in: winter, spring, summer, fall
Meadows, oceans, sunrises, sunsets
Green leaves and blossoms, snow draped branches
Vineyards, mountains, hills, deserts
Rivers, lakes, brooks and streams
Joy, sorrow, excitement, discouragement
Hope, doubt, enthusiasm, courage, love
Grief, healing, compassion, tenderness
Strength, anger, vitality, delight, faith!
Let all have a place in the window of your soul.
Drink in the day!
Recently I had the opportunity to walk among the giant redwoods in northern California. We drove through the Avenue of the Giants for about 32 miles, stopping occasionally to walk through the groves. Gazing into the immensity of those branches to the tops of the trees and on into the sky beyond, I suddenly felt infinitesimal small. An experience such as this is difficult to name. Although It brought tears to my heart I couldn't seem to get them to my eyes. Standing in such a magnitude of beauty I realized there was no way I could adequately photograph it. That would be like trying to take a picture of God.
Then suddenly I notice, at my feet, the lush green ferns that have grown out of the moist rich compost of dead trees and foliage. In the forest everything is interconnected. They are relatives. It is so easy to be in awe of the powerful steeples of the giant ancestors and not even notice their small lush green relatives at my feet. How often I do that in daily life. Humility rises out of the ground and gazes on me with love. I begin to realize that there is an unseen world right here at my feet made up of lichens, leaves, branches, cones, beetles, centipedes, rodents--more than I can name.
Now I begin to walk more carefully marveling at the community I am moving through.
The joy of interconnection massages me and I feel OK about being small.