Our Talent

24th Sunday after Pentecost ~ Year A

Zephaniah 1:7,12-18 | Psalm 90:1-12 | 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 | Matthew 25:14-30

How many times have you marveled at the energy of a young child running circles around you? A few times? Every time? It’s enough to leave us breathless, those of us with many more years of experience, wear, and tear. That’s a different kind of breathlessness than that of holding a newborn child, especially if we’re there in those first moments after birth, holding the bundle of newly emerged energy even while the lifeblood from the mother tries to find a balance. She’s exhausted, and we’re amazed. In that precious moment we are in the presence of a miracle pulsating with life and potential, acutely aware that something nearly magical has happened, that the veil between what was before and what is now has been crossed in a visible and tangible way. Gratitude wells up in our hearts and often our eyes, and a whispered “Thanks be to God” might be all we can say. We are present to something real, something meaningful (even if we don’t exactly know how yet). We mark the day annually, celebrating birthdays for the holy days they are in our lives but especially their meaningfulness in the lives of others.

Other occasions of joy and gratitude, love and meaning, we don’t often celebrate but experience in the moment. We shop and box up food for a family, doing the inconvenient thing especially in this time of covid to shop for others to provide something more than physical nourishment. Our act of giving unconditionally to another in need says we see you, we hear your need, and we give of our abundance to share with you. Again, we offer thanks to God.

We reduce, reuse, and recycle to reduce waste and our footprint on this planet, showing our care for Creation and hope for future generations. We listen intently to the person speaking to us, sharing their story, our phones silenced or forgotten while we abide in a moment together to laugh or cry but to be fully awake and present to one another. These moments and so many others give us the opportunity to recognize the value of life and presence and to glimpse a sense of our purpose, our meaning. Ahhhh. How many of us wonder what our purpose and meaning are in this life?

Especially now when life’s troubles are so great, when death and devastation are so prevalent, do we wonder if who we are and what we do makes a difference?

If we think about the most meaningful moments of our lives, are others present? Do they know how much that moment meant to us? The mother who blesses us with entrance to her birthing room, the mentor who blows our mind by holding a mirror to our brilliance … do they know how much they have enriched our lives? Do you think the people who owned the property behind my childhood home knew how much it meant to me that I could wander in their woods and play by and in the creek and imagine untold stories while perched on the fallen tree by the waterfall? These are sacred moments in time that I barely give credit for; why would I expect someone else to be aware of them?

We’re wrapping up the Season after Pentecost and moving quickly toward Advent (officially, in case we haven’t already started our preparations). I cannot help but feel our lectionary preparing us for our lessons to keep awake and not to lose hope. Our collect commends to us our scriptures–to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, and I have to tell you that I was caught in a moment not necessarily of breathlessness but of love and appreciation and gratitude while studying the Word of God. Yes, I know it’s in my ordinal vows to study Scripture daily, and I share much time with you engaged in the Word through the Daily Office, Bible study, and our Sunday Worship. But those of you who also engage daily in Scripture know what I mean when we truly open our heart and mind to seek understanding and Wisdom from the Word of God. With practice and perseverance, dedication and humility, work and openness, we realize that the disciples who were on the road to Emmaus were speaking truth to their experience when they said their hearts were strangely warmed. When the one whom we know to be the resurrected Jesus opened Scripture to them, the Word that was in their hearts, the Word they knew to be of God, was enkindled in a way that reminded them they had not only ingested the Word, but they embodied it. Jesus Christ reminded them of what they had within them. A few moments later, they would be fully aware of what was with them all along, even if Jesus Christ was no longer physically present to them.

The words we hear today in our lessons invite us to live into our lives of meaning and purpose.

If we look to Zephaniah, we hear a prophet chiding a people who have become complacent, perhaps indifferent. Though they worship on the day of the LORD, they come before God in their comfort, out of habit, maybe proud of themselves for living so faithfully. They lack the awareness of their frailty and vulnerability that Psalm 90 addresses. This psalm appeals to God to “teach us to number our days / that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.” If we continued to the end of the psalm, we’d find in verse 17 that the psalmist also asks for God’s graciousness to “be upon us; (to) prosper the work of our hands; / prosper our handiwork.” Unlike the Israelites Zephaniah addresses, the psalmist asks for God’s blessing, guidance. The psalmist plainly attributes God as refuge, as God of indignation and of grace and loving-kindness. The work of our hands as children or servants of God can lead to prosperity, if we receive the graciousness of God, if we apply our hearts to God’s wisdom . . . if we love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength.

But what of this parable of the talents? Are we to pursue venture capital so we can do amazing and awesome things with all the money we earn? Well, sure, if you can. I’ve got nothing against good fortune for you and give thanks if you can share that with the church. 🙂 But this parable is a gift from Jesus, and as such, it appeals to the wisdom of our hearts, something greater than our materialistic or capitalistic world can comprehend.

A talent, I read, was equal to 15 years’ earnings for a day laborer. In the parable, the master who is about to leave gives one servant the equivalent of a lifetime’s earnings. To another he gives an adult worker’s earnings–retirement secured. To another, he gives 15 year’s worth–he’s invested in the pension. The master leaves for a long time, each person left to do what they could. Informed by the third servant’s judgment of the master, I’ve always thought that the first two played into the game, dealing and swindling like the master, likewise to be commended for earning their gains by whatever means necessary, whether it was right or legal or fair or not.

For today, I have read, marked, learned, and inwardly digested to hear a different perspective. Yes, I read commentaries alongside my Bible and printout of the readings. I don’t do this work alone, and I don’t suggest you engage alone all the time, either. 

The third servant hid his talent out of fear. Did you hear that?

When the master returned, does he count the talents? What does Jesus say the master commends? The trustworthiness. “Well done.” “Good.” Their reward? A promotion? A bonus? “Enter into the joy of your master.” I realize that the slave/master language is difficult. We can reframe it and hear it more clearly, perhaps. Have you ever had a boss thank and reward you and commend you to their joy? But what if we hear this parable from Jesus and see Jesus as the master in the story and his disciples, even ourselves, as the servants? Jesus says, I’m with you now and give you your life, a long time, or a few years. What will you do for the glory of God? What will you do to build up this kin-dom of heaven? Like a Saint you live your life to make more disciples, spreading the Good News to all whom you encounter, so full of life and love as you are. Like another saint, you commit your work to raise the valleys, to the care of the oppressed and the marginalized in whatever way only you can. Well done, good and faithful servant.

How many of us, though, are like the third? We’re given this moment, and we’re afraid. Sounds amazing, Jesus, but I’ve heard stories, and you go messing around where you shouldn’t be. It’ll be easier and safer if I just keep on keepin’ on and find my peace and security in the coins I earn myself. (That’s where the reading from Thessalonians comes in today for me. “Peace and security” was a slogan on Roman coins, reminding the citizens of the source of their peace and security. Paul reminds them that the joke’s on them when Christ returns because the source of peace and security is God alone. So instead of Roman armor and ways of life, better garb up in faith, hope, and love.) In the parable, is says the master had him thrown into darkness, but truly, didn’t he choose to turn toward fear instead of living into the life that was offered to him?

This life that we have, isn’t it easy to be afraid. No matter how many times we’re commended by scripture not to be afraid, we’re crowded by fear and prone to bury our life–our greatest gift and talent, denying the world of the image of God we’re given to share in this world.

But when we give a little space for faith, hope, and love, when we give space to receive grace and mercy, when we allow ourselves to be dependent upon the one who gives us life eternal–from before we were born to the ever after–what happens? What happens when we have God as our first priority, when simply being present in a posture of gratitude, as a beacon of light and love that guides all we meet to God? We have the opportunity to share the presence of God with others, whether we realize it or not. Have you ever done an act of kindness and worried that it meant nothing? Have you ever regretted being present to someone? When we are sick, when we are dying, do we focus on fear? Sometimes. Those who focus on fear are those who are too crowded by darkness and the weeping and gnashing of teeth. Those who, even at the last moment, realize that their life was full of moments that give glory to God know what it is to enter into the fullness of joy of Christ. “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete” (John 15:11).There’s no doubt that these are trying times, but I assure you that our lives are meaningful and filled with purpose. Where you see the presence of God, there it is, already with you. It has been with you all along, since you were knit together in your mother’s womb. Others might recognize it before we realize it ourselves. There is joy to be had if we know where to look. We’ll see it wherever we seek God. There is nowhere we are that God is not. Thanks be to God.

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From Home to Tomorrow

Proper 24 ~ Year A

Isaiah 45:1-7 | Psalm 96:1-13 | 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 | Matthew 22:15-22


Where do you come from? From whence do you come? (for the grammarians out there) If we’re traveling, we’ll likely say we’re from Arkansas, and if others actually know anything about Arkansas, they might ask us where, to which we’d reply Bentonville, Rogers, Bella Vista, etc. Even if they don’t ask us which city, isn’t it funny when, let’s say you’re in Chicago, you tell someone you’re from Arkansas; they light up, saying they have a cousin so-in-so in Arkansas, and surely you know them, right? 😊 We try hard to establish connection, don’t we? To share what we know, especially what we love. Perhaps we’re even trying to establish that sense of belonging together.

This week while I was taking some time to rest and reflect, I did a lot of reading. In one of the books, the author wrote about coming home. While taking time away, I admit that when I thought about returning home, I started thinking about dishes and laundry, responsibilities, and obligations. But that’s not what she described. Instead, she described exactly what I was doing: enjoying a cup of coffee/wine, listening, praying, playing, taking a hike, resting, etc. She described being at peace in the moment, being who I am, nourishing myself in the ways I know I need to be nourished, recognized for who I am, and she called this “coming home.”

Now why on earth would someone from Bentonville “come home” to a cabin in the woods? I’ll tell you why: at that place, I have been nourished as a woman sensitive to the presence of Spirit. Since I was a child, I have loved being among the trees. As a quiet creative, I have a mind that needs silence to hear what’s being said in my conscious and subconscious. I need to hear the ocean through the leaves of the trees in the wind, the crackle of the fire, and the symphony of the birds and the bugs. As someone who has never lived alone, I need time to experience the holy solitude of being alone, which, the author points out, derives from “all one.” Whether we’re surrounded with family or living by ourselves, taking time to be all one means we take time to figure out what we need to feel and be whole. Coming home means to me, returning to the place—even if it’s a moment’s state of mind—where I am fed mind, body, and soul for who I am, for whom I’m created to be, not who I think I am or for what I’m expected to be.

 There’s a danger, isn’t there, in living too much into expectation? Those expectations stack up like precarious building blocks from childhood (and maybe that’s precisely when the expectations were given to us), and they can surround us, walling us in until they—or we—tumble and crumble into a mess. It’s okay to have expectations; roles and responsibilities are built with them, and they provide solid accountability when they are within reason, reality, and respect.

Paul, in his address to the churches, sounds like he is calling the people home to be the Church they were called to be, to be the Christians they truly are. We can read this epistle or any of the others with an anxiety of what a wreck the church has become and with a snicker of what a smooth talker Paul was. OR, we can read this with the compassion we would hope for ourselves, a summons to remember who we are and whose we are and by what power we are able to do what we do. Yes, we’ll get worried when our beliefs and aspirations don’t match our reality. (Christians are still prone to sin and make bad choices, and Jesus still hasn’t returned before faithful people have died. The problems of the Thessalonians aren’t all that different from ours today.) Still today, we make our choices, doing the best we can.

 I wrote but then erased “we cannot change our reality.” It is true that we cannot change what has been done. “It is what it is,” is a common phrase these days. I hear so many people so fed up with this present moment here in the States. It’s divided and hateful. It’s a cluster of epic proportions. The systems are unjust, and the people in power are more interested in keeping their power than in serving the people. Does this resonate with you? Sound familiar? Perhaps you’ve also heard frustration about healthcare, employment, education, the cost of and access to food. The frustrations are institutional and personal—all-pervasive, affecting our waking and, unfortunately, our sleeping (or lack thereof).

I erased “we cannot change the reality” because in truth, we can change or shape the reality of our future. What can we do to be the change, as Gandhi would suggest? Do we take to the ballot or to the streets? Yes, and perhaps. But before we act, before we do anything, we must know where we’re coming from.

When’s the last time we came home to ourselves, were nurtured with the divine voice that assures us of our belovedness and worth, our gifts and our call? Not everyone is called to exhortation and prophecy, just as not everyone is called to teach and to heal. But we all need these in our lives, which is why we give thanks to the many member of the one Body. Can I get an “Amen!”?

Forgive me if this triggers unpleasant memories for you, but there’s a hymn from my Baptist upbringing that came to mind. “Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling” it’s called, and the refrain yearningly sings, “Come home . . . come home . . . Ye who are weary, come home . . .” There’s a bit about sinners, too, which made this particularly common at funerals and as an altar call, but Jesus calling the weary home is on point. We’re tired. We’re tired because we’ve been too far from home for too long. God’s Beloved Community, God’s dream for us isn’t this hot mess we’re in. God’s dream for us isn’t anything I could describe because it’s too great for me to understand.

What I believe with all my heart, however, is that if we’ve ever been home, been all one, then we have an inkling of what we need more of to change the reality of now to create a better tomorrow. Baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, gifted to persevere in faith, hope, and love, we don’t have an excuse. We may have sin—turning away from God—but we also have repentance, the constant invitation to turn or return to God.

I emphasize this coming home and knowing ourselves as God’s beloved because we need this solid footing in our lives, this firm foundation. When someone comes along, or sends someone along, to flatter and try to trick us in some snare, we need a pause, to take a moment. We don’t know how long Jesus took to look into the young eyes of the Pharisees’ disciples and the Herodians, people aspiring to the powers of the world in that moment. We don’t know how long it took for him to know their heart and their intent, to discern that they were too insensitive to subtleties and had to be told outright what hypocrites they were. Jesus called out the thing they were most concerned with: the coin, the money itself. The emperor could have the coins, but what should be given to God? His challengers were stunned, and why is that?

 What is God’s?

 If we’ve been too far from home for too long, we’re likely to have forgotten. Too far from home, we may have fortified those precarious, unrealistic expectations. Too far from home, we may think that alone means all on our own, and on our own we work within the powers and principalities that give us the materials and money to piece together the identity we think we need and some semblance of power in the reality of this moment. Too far from home for too long, we forget that in the beginning, there was a Word, spoken with a breath of love, in Spirit of Wisdom, and from there all came into being.

 What is God’s? Everything.

Before we make our next move, before we cast our vote, before we declare whose side we’re on, it’s worthwhile to pause, to take a moment or as long as we need, to come home a minute and remember whose child we are. Tell her our woes, our concerns. Share our fears and despair. Let her feed us and give us drink. Let her bathe us, washing away the grime and restore our radiance. Let her whisper, “There, there,” and then whisper the words we long to hear . . . and maybe even the words we didn’t want but needed to hear. We can take what we need from home, and stepping out the doors into the wide world around us, sure . . . we give to the emperor what’s due, but we mustn’t forget what is God’s.

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Thoughts for the Journey – Advent 1

Jeremiah 33:14-16 | Psalm 25:1-9 | 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 | Luke 21:25-36

Contrary to what my children may think, being Episcopalian at this time of year is not solely about waiting until the last minute to put up Christmas decorations or shaming others who put up decor right after Thanksgiving (if they even wait that long!). As with any culture, there are likely to be particular practices that are different from the norm, and since they’re different they stand out, setting us apart. But all of what we do means something and speaks to who we are and what we believe. We light the candles on the Advent wreath one week at a time, watching the light grow until finally we get to light the Christ candle at Christmas, our anticipation fulfilled. In a society that can get anything right now, intentionally waiting says something. Sitting in the darkness means something. Making the intentional journey through Advent shapes us and forms us year after year.

People of faith commonly refer to our lives as journeys, and we’re no different. Like I said, we “journey” through Advent and also through Lent. We have the Season after Pentecost, which as a “season” implies growth. We have a church calendar that cycles round and round through the years and phases of the moon. We are constantly moving, traveling on a path, walking in the Way. It’s no wonder we can feel exhausted if we keep plowing forward at breakneck speed.

We need time to slow down. We need the darkness reminding us to rest. We need a mother heavy with child to remind us we can’t get anywhere too fast and might need help along the way . . . and patience as we trust in God’s timing, not our own.

Our readings for this first Sunday of Advent spoke to me about this nature of our journey.

In the lesson from Jeremiah, one is foretold who “shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” God’s promise will be fulfilled when there is a way of justice and righteousness. In the Psalm, we recite with the psalmist that we lift up our souls, putting our trust in God, as we try to live faithfully as believers. We trust God to teach us God’s paths, to lead us along God’s path of love and faithfulness. And in the letter to the Thessalonians, there’s a prayer that “our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to” one another. The prayer continues, that the Lord might “make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.” As we journey along, there’s genuine compassion for our brothers and sisters along the way but not just family but also neighbors and strangers.

And where are we going with all this journeying?

The Thessalonians heard that we’re anticipating the coming of Jesus with all the saints. We hear today in our gospel reading that redemption is drawing near, that the time is coming when we will have the opportunity “to stand before the Son of Man.”

And how do we know if the time is ripe? If the time is near?

Are all the earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, climate change reports, refugee crises our summer fig leaves telling us the time is nigh? Don’t you know that there were likely signs such as these in the decades and centuries following Jesus’ death. Since the Ascension faithful Christians have been proclaiming the second coming of the Son of Man, anticipating when things would finally change from the nightmare that is, especially if you are one oppressed. With such hope for something radically different, we want to be aware, to be the first to notice that the tide is turning, the tables shifting, the kingdom of God coming near.

Is this what we’re running toward? Our spiritual marathon is so we can run into the kingdom of God?

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away,” Jesus says, and for those of us who are looking for a little more tangible goal, we might be puzzled at his words.

In case you didn’t know this about me, I’m not a runner. 😉 But I know runners, and they train and fuel and know the race courses, like all good athletes. There’s a definite beginning and end. Especially for marathons, the last leg of the journey is gruelling; I’ve heard folks describe out of body–or at least out of mind–experiences. There’s a loss of self, a loss of control–there’s just the movement and the breath and the hope of reaching the goal. Like I said, I’m not a runner, and the closest thing I’ve ever done to running a marathon is birthing my children. In that, too, once you’ve hit transition, there’s no going back. The pain is insurmountable, the control over the body gone, and there’s nothing but complete surrender to the process at hand. If we’re lucky, though, we have people nearby reminding us to be present, to breathe, and to keep going one moment at a time.

We don’t always lose ourselves in the journey in good, productive ways. We can lose ourselves to any number of distractions or temptations, drunkenness or worries and fall to the wayside, veering far off the Way that leads us to God. As much as we want to focus on distant goals, something out there or 24 days away, it’s much more difficult to live with the expectation that this might be the moment I realize Christ has broken into our lives.

All this talk of journeying and how to be along the way and how to be a loving, good neighbor, is really practice for how to live with presence that God’s promise wasn’t exclusively for back then or for them or for some distant time in the future, but God’s promise is fulfilled right now. Advent reminds us that it’s not just the work that we do throughout our lives as we follow the path we believe is leading us toward God. It’s preparing ourselves to meet Christ not only at the feast of his nativity but also at any moment when we’re so deep in the Way of Love that we’ve completely given ourselves over to God’s will that the Word that was present at the beginning and made flesh at Christ’s birth is as present now as it always will be.

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The Work We Must Do

Exodus 17:1-7 | Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16 | Philippians 2:1-13 | Matthew 21:23-32

Saturday night marks the end of Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement, one of if not the most important day in the Jewish calendar. A day of prayer and fasting begun at sundown Friday evening, it’s not only a time of acknowledging one’s own wrongdoing, such as unfulfilled vows to God, but also a time to seek forgiveness. Every time we come together for corporate worship–whether it’s the Daily Office or the Holy Eucharist–we can pray our general confession as well as the Lord’s prayer. Twice in our worship today, we ask forgiveness not only for what we’ve done in thought, word, and deed but also for what we’ve left undone and for forgiveness of our trespasses, where we’ve crossed a line or committed an offense against someone else . . . as well as forgiving their trespasses toward us. We do this not to live in perpetual guilt but so we remain awake, fully aware of what is going on in our whole lives, mind, body, and spirit. We do this because when we make our baptismal vows, we promise that when we sin (not if but when), we will repent; we will re-orient ourselves toward God. We do this because we are not perfect, because on our own, we don’t have the ability to fulfill the yearning for a life lived fully, authentically, rich with wonder and purpose.

Throughout Scripture, time and time again, we get the message that it’s not us who can solve things alone.

In Exodus, again we hear the people raising their voices at Moses. They “quarreled” with him. If they didn’t have water to drink–in the desert of all places–I cannot imagine this is a lighthearted disagreement, and we get clarification when Moses tells the Lord that the people “are almost ready to stone (him).” Not only are they quarreling with Moses, but Moses says they are testing the LORD. All the things the LORD has done, now they test Him again, questioning as Moses said, “Is the LORD among us or not?” Yet God provides. Here in Exodus, Moses and Aaron do what the LORD says. The same story in Numbers (Chapter 20) has Moses strike the rock and take credit for what God has provided, receiving the promise that he will not make it to the promised land. It wasn’t Moses alone who provided water for the people of God.

In the Gospel according to Matthew, the chief priests and elders deceitfully prompt Jesus with a trick question, one they hope will incriminate himself. Jesus, however, turns the table with full transparency, unveiling the very criteria to which they themselves are held accountable. In their unwillingness to state their own position about where John the Baptist came from, they showed themselves unworthy before Jesus to receive the Truth. How different the moment in the gospel would have been if the elders had been honest about their struggle, given ear to Jesus as the Philippians did to Paul about what constituted righteousness, about what mattered. If they had, Jesus could have shared with them what Paul shares to the Philippians, what Jesus shared with his disciples: that there is complete joy to be had in love of one another through Christ who comes from the Father, that abiding in love with love of God is the utmost fulfillment we can attain this side of Glory.

Presumably written from prison, Paul shares his letter to the Philippians with love and affection, including in our reading today what may have been a “Christ hymn,” something familiar to the community. What truly matters to the welfare of the people is having the same mind, love, and agreement–rooted in Christ. This was to be their work, to “work out (their) own salvation with fear and trembling” since it “is God who is at work in you.” Reading this correspondence, it doesn’t take a great stretch of imagination to hear how the Holy Spirit might speak to us from the Word. Are we as a people of one mind? Are we willing to let God work through us, in us, for the sake of love of God alone? For love? For joy?

There’s an article titled “America Wasn’t Built for Humans” by Andrew Sullivan, noted to be a conservative political commentator. In it, the whole premise is that because humans are tribal creatures, America isn’t the best set-up. From the beginning of humanity, tribalism was a good thing, necessary for survival. You know who your people are, you’re working toward the same goals, you share the same myths to understand the world and the supernatural. I want nothing more for my daughter at college than for her to find her tribe, because our tribes can be a good thing. But tribes of around 50 are quite different than a tribe of 323 million. Naturally, we have many tribes within America, and we want to sort and classify everyone so we can understand not only others but also ourselves. From the beginning of our nation, Sullivan figures, “Tribalism was an urge our Founding Fathers assumed we could overcome. And so it has become our greatest vulnerability.” Surely they must have thought that common values rooted in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness would be enough to keep us united. Sullivan himself hopes that America can find common ground under one president.

But I warrant that placing our hopes upon any one person or even a group of persons alone is not enough. This is hard work, this working out of our survival, especially our salvation. It’s okay for it to be a struggle. Our tradition provides many examples of people wrestling physically, verbally, and emotionally with God or God’s messengers. Think of Jacob, Jonah, and Paul. Like them, if we truly engage, we are not the same person after a genuine encounter with God. Most of the time, if our endeavor is entered whole-heartedly, we are transformed by the experience because the struggle moves us deeper into relationship with God. The closer we are to God, the clearer it can be to see how we’ve lost our way, how much we need God and one another to be fully restored.

The key to a full restoration, the hope for us all is that our humanity can be transformed by the life of Christ, by an understanding and practice of life that restores us to unity in God.

It’s true that we don’t have to be Christian to be good people, but as Christians, we have a unique responsibility to bring about reconciliation and restoration to unity to God through Jesus Christ. How do we do that? As Paul told the Philippians, we have to be of one mind in Christ. This might sound idealistic, but I believe it gets at the core of what a Beloved Community is. It’s neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female: it’s here and now, inclusive of all. But it’s going to be hard, admitting when we’re wrong and losing our lives–especially losing perceived control of our lives–for the sake of true salvation in God. If we can make this sacrifice, then we might be able to taste the exquisite beauty and ultimate freedom in a life given over to God . . . our best opportunity to experience joy made complete.

All this is easy to talk about, especially in context of characters of the past. But the Holy Spirit speaks to us through our Scripture now as then. The clarion call for us all to have the mind of Christ rings loudly and earnestly today, but how do we get it? As Episcopalians, we do engage in Scripture; we have Bible studies. I challenge you to take this reading from Philippians, to take it and read it at least two to three times per day this week. When the Bishop comes next week, see how you hear his message, notice how you welcome our newly confirmed and received, observe how you listen to the news. Will it have changed with a constant focus on who Christ is? Can we put on the mind of Christ and “be the change we wish to see in the world” (to borrow a quote from Gandhi)? We won’t know if we don’t try, and this is the work we must do.

 

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A Sensory God

A poem for a sense of God while in discernment.

Inspiration thanks to a prompt given at Arkansas’ Episcopal Church Women’s Summer Quest with special gratitude for St. Luke’s, Hot Springs.

God tastes like a vitamin

Bitter and nasty

if left too long on the tongue

or in the mouth.

Heaven forbid it get

stuck

in the throat.

Best to swallow quickly and whole.

God smells like a spring rain

refreshing and sweet

with the scent of death

not far away or

under feet.

God feels like a 2×4

directly slammed to the head

or heart

but also like

grandma’s arms and chest

wrapped around in full

embrace

          and

                 comfort. . .

assurance that all is well.

God looks like the twinkle

of the eyes

above a smile,

through the tears,

from the heart,

bubbling up from the soul,

unbidden yet persistent.

God sounds like “YES”

when “no” is easier,

like “Here I am”

when nothing’s left to give,

like “I’ll go”

when no clear path appears.

God is Love

when Fear is all around.

To whom would you

         rather go?

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A Pause

A typo almost dictated the title to be “A Oa..”, which made me think of “an oasis.” What is a true pause but an oasis in our day? At least, this pause is for me. This pause is at the end of a comfortably full day, when I got home before dinner was already late, while the sun is still out, and the house still quiet since the fam isn’t yet back from after-school activities. Moms and dads of all sorts know this kind of pause, a sort of calm before the storm.

And in this pause I choose to write because it’s been a while since I’ve journaled or blogged or written anything other than sermons. While sermons are a treasured part of my ministry, there’s so much unsaid in a sermon, even as I hope to have said enough, trusting Spirit to fill in the gaps.

Pausing for a moment to write grants me the opportunity to see, to open my eyes and gaze with wonder what’s going on around me, let alone what’s going on within me. Pausing for a moment to write helps me realize where my prayers manifest, especially the prayers left unsaid.

This Lent has been a time of prayer: long and intentional, short and rushed, whispered, sung, listened to, promised, and hoped for. My breath prayer this Lent has been

Let me abide in you, O God.

One night driving home it took on the tune to the Taize hymn “Bless the Lord my soul,” and it has stayed with me since then–not that I’m ready to let it go.

If Lent is about realizing our dependency upon God and increasing our awareness of God’s presence, I believe this Lent I learned more about the opposite. I find myself returning to my breath prayer as an escape from all the constraints I put on myself, mostly, and all the anxieties I hold onto when I know full well it’s out of my control. I have seen how much more I depend upon my timing and my management (even though I know how horribly that works out most times!) and see just how messed up things are in the world through our microcosm of a community, rather than trusting in God’s perfect timing and dream for us all.

Preparing for Holy Week, this insight is rather perfect, for once we know something, it’s hard to ignore or pretend it doesn’t exist. (I’ll try to be sincere in my gratitude for this knowledge as I keep thinking, “Those to whom much is given, much is required.”) What has God revealed to me in the desert that I can take into the Easter season? What have I learn that, gilded with Resurrection, illuminates not only my ministry but even more importantly, God’s presence in the world?

I think I need more pauses to decipher the answers to those questions, but I know that Easter has much to say about God’s timing and God’s dream for us. In this pause, I can almost feel it in the anticipatory silence surrounding me.

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(Almost a Sermon)

 

(This is the sermon written for today. The sermon preached had a lot more LOVE in it, thanks to the Holy Spirit and a wonderful Saturday.)

Exodus 24:12-18 | Psalm 99 | 2 Peter 1:16-21 | Matthew 17:1-9


As guilty as I am of it, I’m still amazed of how often these days more and more people are busy looking at their phones instead of at each other or looking through their phones to take pictures to capture the moment so it can be shared broadly through the social media venues. Again, I’m guilty, too, because I benefit by seeing the experiences of others, seeing what brings you joy, knowing when you are hurting (if you post it), and generally having a sense of what is going on. Unless we bump into each other at the grocery store or call each other on the phone (yes, phones are still good for phone calls), online is the way many people connect these days.

If he’d had a phone, don’t you know that Peter already had photos taken, had tagged Jesus, James, and John and had marked the location complete with new hashtags for Moses, Elijah, and the three new booths he was going to set up when he was saying, “Jesus, this is going to be so good!”

Only, it wasn’t.

Really, how many times are you able to capture a picture of the amazing sunrise or sunset, one that gets all the shades of purple, blue, pink, and orange spread all across the horizon? How many full moons and moonlit landscapes have you photographed and felt that the lunar beauty was adequately portrayed?

Peter thought he caught was what going on and was ready to mark the place and spread the news, but it wasn’t time. He didn’t have it right just yet, but what didn’t he have? What about Jesus being transfigured into full glory before them isn’t enough to verify his status as Son of God?

Because God already spoke from above when Jesus was baptized. Peter already said Jesus is the Messiah, and Jesus shushed him then, too. Jesus has been performing works giving witness to his authority and to the glory of God. Surely this mountaintop transfiguration is just the thing to bring around all those on the fence about believing. Now we’ve even got Moses and Elijah for certain on our team. We’re ready to hit “send” on this press release now.

But in this account of the transfiguration according to Matthew, the apostles heard the voice from the cloud, repeating the baptismal approval and adding what I’m sure had to be a booming “listen to him!”, and they hit the ground. Well, it says, “they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear,” but if you’re covered in a cloud and hearing the voice of God, you’re most likely going to hit the ground because your time has come. The apostles were afraid.

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus doesn’t know what to say to their fear. In Luke, they all keep silent. Here, in Matthew, Jesus comes to them, touches them, and says, “Get up and do not be afraid.”

The apostles look around and see that the moment of transfiguration has passed, along with Moses and Elijah. It’s only Jesus with them now. As they make the trek down the mountain, Jesus orders them not to tell about what they’ve seen until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead–basically until what he’s already told them will happen has actually happened. He’s going to be captured, and he’s going to die and rise again.

Why wait? Jesus continues to perform miracles. Crowds still seek him out. He’s working as one with authority. Why wait? Because there’s more. Epiphany is a season of light, focusing on Jesus’s ministry in the world, how God manifests Light in our world through the Incarnation, but that’s not all of Jesus’ story. The Light of Christ gets overshadowed not by the cloud of God but by our brokenness, not just the nonbelievers and traitors of Jesus’ day, but by our brokenness, too. Jesus’s story continues to be our story because the gospels don’t end with the transfiguration or even the crucifixion.

Jesus’s story is our story because he goes through suffering and death yet rises again. His friends betray him, but he comes back to them, allowing them to profess their love and ascertain their faith. Jesus’s story is our story because he sent those first apostles out to make more disciples, and people’s lives have been touched by God throughout our history, giving testimony to the many ways we suffer, fail, and rise again. Jesus’s story is our story because He continues to be revealed to us, showing up as “a lamp shining in a dark place.”

And I don’t like it, but sometimes we have to wait. We have to wait on God’s time. We have to wait while we discern the next best move, and by “best move” I mean move in accord with God’s will, not mine, and most of the time that’s hard to understand or to have a concept of a bigger picture. Sometimes we wait because we’re afraid, and our first response is not one of compassion or respect, let alone love. The voice from the cloud told the apostles to listen to Jesus. Jesus tells them to “Get up and … not be afraid.”

In an interview, civil rights activist and Congressman John Lewis, reflected on his childhood and young adult life. Listening to him talk, it’s hard to believe that his man was at the front of the march on Bloody Sunday in March of 1965. This man who admitted that he probably cried too much and lamented that we don’t tell one another “I love you” enough, led a nonviolent protest straight into the mouth of hell, where it seemed if one wave of violence didn’t kill them, another one waited at the other side of the bridge.

He didn’t wake up one day and decide to protest. He grew up wanting to be a preacher. He grew up asking questions. He grew up with an unshakeable faith and  persistent love. He believed that things could be better, that we could be better people.

He and the many others who joined Dr. King studied nonviolence. They studied Gandhi’s nonviolent efforts and read Thoreau’s civil disobedience. They dramatized situations, taking turns assaulting each other with horrible insults, learning how to fall and protect the head, practicing maintaining eye contact so that they could show that their spirit was not broken. But they would not retaliate with violence. They would resist the urge to strike back and lash out, knowing that something bigger than themselves was at stake. They studied and practiced nonviolence until they were ready to go out and do when discussion, when civil discourse failed. Being ready meant that they were also willing to face death for what they believed.

And he thought he was going to die that Bloody Sunday of March 7th, 1965. More than worrying about his death, he feared for those who were behind him in the march. But he didn’t die. He lived. He lived to see the day when he could meet the children of the man who beat him and meet the police department that had carried out orders to stop them, all of whom were now seeking forgiveness, seeking reconciliation, seeking freedom from a past that haunted them. Lewis met them in peace, with love. As Christians, we know that the story doesn’t end when one good thing happens, when something bad happens, or when we get scared. In fact, we know the story hasn’t ended yet because we’re still waiting for the Son of Man to come again in full glory.

In the meantime, we’ve got work to do. We’ve got to train on God’s Word. We’ve got to study and practice being in relationship with one another in true love and reconciliation. Sometimes we’ve got to wait because we don’t understand fully, and we may not be ready to give up our egos or even our lives for a greater Good. If we keep seeking God’s will and keep looking for God to show up in our lives, chances are we’ll recognize the glimpses of God’s glory when we see it. Our hearts, minds, and lives are the only thing created to capture and reflect God’s glory, so it’s okay to put down the electronics and turn to one another in love. It may just be that God’s waiting for us.

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Priceless Discipleship

1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21 | Psalm 16 | Galatians 5:1, 13-25 | Luke 9:51-62


Rarely does one walk into an employment obligation without really knowing the full range of requirements, expectations, and compensation. Sure, a teenager might take a summer job and not know what her hourly wage will be, and her mother might sign up to be part of summer camp staff for a couple of weeks without a clue as what exactly to expect. But most people most of the time know what they’re signing up for. We want to make sure that we’ll be able to fulfill expectations and that the effort we put into something will be justly compensated. Our needs and abilities are paramount when we make these important decisions about how we invest our time and energy. When it comes to how we make our living, it’s a matter of getting the math to work in our favor. When it comes to how we live a life, however, especially a Christian life, it’s a matter of something else entirely. When we signed on to be Christians, we signed on to a life of discipleship. Even though discipleship is spelled out for us in the Word, we’re still trying to figure out what it means for us … and what it will cost us.

From what we learn from Elisha and the would-be followers of Jesus, one has to be crazy to be a disciple. Crazy because it doesn’t make sense in our fight or flight world to leave what is comfortable, to surrender oneself, or to let go of control. Who gives up everything to take on something new and unknown? But that’s what Elisha did when Elijah called him. Maybe not right at first, but when he realized that Elijah meant business, Elisha cut his ties quickly and followed Elijah completely, becoming his servant. Likewise, Jesus makes no qualms about the expectations of his followers. It’s going to be difficult. There are going to be times of alienation, and it’s going to require everything, all of their being, all of their focus. It’s all or nothing, and the same is true even today: Jesus demands our all with a focus as determined as he was with his sight set on Jerusalem.

This full demand of ourselves perhaps doesn’t sit so well with us because humanity’s evolutionary process and technological advances strive to make our lives successful and efficient. “We live in an environment of ease and abundance,” says National Geographic explorer and Blue Zones author Dan Buettner, but it turns out that ease and abundance are not serving us well. As we focus on making a living to keep life easy and abundant, we can end up caught in a hamster wheel of stress, illness, and discontent, chasing an illusion. Continuing that cycle seems crazy, too.

The Blue Zones that Buettner studied are places where people live longer, healthier, and happier lives. Yes, diet and natural exercise are important factors, but so are one’s outlook on life and sense of belonging. Having a sense of purpose, knowing what one’s purpose is, along with belonging to a family and practicing a faith tradition are crucial components of living a fulfilling life. (I’m fairly certain some of you are already in on these not-so-secret ideas.)

There was also a recent article about an assistant professor of psychology at Sewanee who conducted a study to compare “the emotional efficacy of strategies that people might use to make themselves feel better–doing something nice for themselves, doing something to benefit another person, and doing something for the betterment of the world.” Again, not-so-surprisingly, doing something for others or for the world enhances one’s well-being by increasing experiences of feelings like love, gratitude, and trust. Contrary to media and advertising, doing something self-indulgent like getting a massage, going shopping, or eating a decadent dessert has the same long-lasting effect on well-being and happiness as doing nothing.

So where does that leave us? I think it leaves us pondering upon Paul’s words to the Galatians. “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another” (Gal 5:13). We have the freedom to do what we want, which means we can remain contained in a finite web centered upon ourselves. But we also have the freedom to seek and to serve the kingdom of God, opening our lives to the infinite. We cannot open to the infinite on our own but only through Christ. We are invited to be willing servants to one another through Christ, through love, and it’s not without compensation.

As disciples of Christ, we follow his way, expressing our love of God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind. We follow his way, loving our neighbors as ourselves. We follow his way, teaching the Good News of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension, making way for more disciples. We use the resources and gifts that we have because we realize that they are all from God. Even in our feeble understanding and humKeller Dining Hall, Camp Mitchell, Arkansasble efforts, God sees fit to nurture within us fruits of the Spirit. These are our rewards in our faithful service: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. When manifest, these fruits further empower the works of the devoted disciples to do things we didn’t think we were capable of. Moments marked with signs of these fruits are beyond precious and remind us how near and dear God moves through the Holy Spirit.

It’s okay to be the crazy Christian. We can all be the disciple who accepts the call of God, who embarks upon the thankless, sometimes dangerous, and unpredictable adventure of discipleship. “If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit” (Gal 5:25). We can trust the work that we do or the hobbies that we have to enrich our witness to Christ as we proclaim the name of God and not only make disciples of others but become better disciples ourselves.

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On Glory

Acts 16:16-34 | Psalm 97 | Revelation 22:12-14,16-17,20-21 | John 17:20-26

Wednesday morning chapel is now one of the highlights of my week during the school year. Looking out into the sea of about 60 bright eyed children and the dedicated, nurturing teachers, I hope that what I say in the few moments of my homily will plant a seed of God’s whole and everlasting love in them. I hope they have something to take away with them because I won’t always be there to remind them that they are beloved children of God, and I know that they are growing up in a world of pain and suffering.

Isn’t that typical of a good mother? To want to protect her children?

And there are lots of children to be protected.

The little second-grade boy who, while we were standing in the lunch line, told me his mom was in jail, and the boy behind him who told me he was about to get out of DHS.

The 13-year-old girl who tried to commit suicide.

The 17-year-old transgendered child kicked out of the house.

The 25-year-old busted for meth, though he’s been using since he was 14.

The 35-year-old refugee whose spouse died, leaving him with the toddler and no home.

The 45-year-old single mom who went in for a routine mammogram and ended up with a same-day biopsy.

The 59-year-old who learns about her biological parents and siblings for the first time.

The 64-year-old who hears the confession and remorse of her molester who is dying and thinks she is someone else.

The 80-something-year-old who loses mobility, not just outside the home but within the house, too.

And the 98-year-old who grimaces with pain and fear of the unknown.

These—all of these—are children, precious babies who are in the midst of suffering. Mamas who care want to eliminate the pain.

How many of you have heard or said, “Honey, if I could take away your pain, I would”? How many of you have actually crossed hell and high water to do so, or at least to try?

Glennon Doyle Melton spoke at Trinity Cathedral a couple of weeks ago, wrapping up the Insights lecture series. She’s acclaimed for writing her truth on her blog Momastery.com.

In her writing, she shares the truth she knows as a wife, mother, recovering addict, and lover of Jesus, and people have discovered that her speaking matches her writing. The cathedral was literally full of giddy women, excited to hear her in person. She shared her stories and how they intersected with other women’s stories, usually meeting at that important point of vulnerability.

One woman told her what a failure she thought herself as a mother because her son was in the throws of addiction, of pain. Glennon, in the crazy-wise way she has, basically said to the woman, “Oh, honey, I hear you. I heard you say you’re a failure. So what is it that you think a mother does? What’s your job description?”

And the woman says, “Well, to protect my child, to keep him from getting hurt.”

“Mmm-hmmm, and what are your hopes for your child?” Glennon asks.

“That he grows into a strong, resilient, confident man,” the mother says.

“And how do we become strong and resilient?” Glennon asks.

The dawn of realization can be awesomely beautiful and painfully brutal, like life itself, which is why Glennon coined the term brutiful. The brutiful truth, they tearfully acknowledged, is that we go through suffering and emerge stronger than we were before, resilient in an enduring sort of way, and confident of our place in this brutiful life.

Maybe a more realistic job description for mothers is to love and sustain life, life that is given to us. All life originates in God, and we are given the care of life in this world. We just have to make it through the suffering parts. Just.

God knows we need help.

So the Son of God comes and lives among us. Jesus goes to the sick and the suffering or they come to him, and he heals them. Their pain is taken away. It seems miraculous and magical and transactional, but really it’s transformational. When it happens so quickly, it’s hard to distinguish, except that for the healed persons, their life is forever changed in a way only they and God know. They’ve not just been physically healed by God; they’ve been restored to wholeness, their full glory.

Do we even know what that means?

Glory?

Because it caused me pause.

I had to stop and realize that I didn’t really know what Jesus meant when he said to God that he wanted us to be with him, to see his glory, the glory given to him because God loved him before the foundation of the world. It sounds great. It resonates within me but doesn’t register consciously in my brain.

So I looked at different definitions of “glory” and how we use it in our liturgy (because we use it a lot). We have our doxology: “Glory to God in the highest,” we sing. We partner glory and honor because it can mean high regard and esteem, and we do hold God in the highest regard, so we use glory because it’s the best we can do with our finite language.

But what about this glory that’s given to Jesus by God? The glory restored in those who are healed? Wouldn’t you know that I opened my e-mail Friday morning to the daily message from the Society of Saint John the Evangelist, and in the little preview line on my phone, their word for the day in bold was GLORY.

I gasped out loud because I had seriously been wondering about glory. (Y’all, when we seriously wonder in the presence of God, we need to keep our eyes and ears open because we’re going to run smack dab into it.) Brother Curtis told me—because I know he was just speaking to me (let alone the thousands others who read these things)—

“Glory, or to be glorified, is to teem with God’s light and life and love. It’s to draw from the deepest waters of life, how the psalmist prays: ‘For you are the well of life, and in your light we see light.’ The Gospel writers speak of glory as if someone were simply luminous, irradiated with God’s light and life and love.”

That’s the understanding of glory that resonates within me so deeply that it strikes the chord of Truth and sends chills up my spine.

Jesus, Son of God, perfectly shone forth in glory, though he was disguised to those who did not believe. It looks like he healed by flicking a switch, but it was the power of recognition that transformed lives. Letting ourselves see Jesus in full glory and doing the even harder thing of recognizing the glory within us changes things. That glory of light and life and love is already in us, being as we are, created in God’s image, but our glory gets buried under layers upon layers of stuff we accumulate throughout life. To let that light and life and love break through is going to hurt, and often it’s going to hurt badly.

Our God knows this too, and I imagine God saying, “Son, go and show my children—your brothers and sisters—go show them Truth. You go and live out your life revealing our glory, and there are those who will recognize us. You’re going to go through the suffering of them all, for them all, to show them the way back to me. You’re going to die, but you’ll go back to them after three days to show them Life and Love and Light fully revealed. You’re going to be among them in your fullness of Glory, and you’re going to tell them that you will be with them forever. And then you’re going to return to Me, and we will abide and welcome all the children as they come to us.”

Jesus knew this to be true and lives out his brutiful life even through death.

Now we are in the season where Jesus has ascended and is gone again, even though he said he’d be with us always, and it doesn’t seem to make much sense.

But Jesus said those things about being one with the Father and with us. He said that thing about giving us the glory that he had been given. He said that thing about love being most important, and he did that thing about redeeming all suffering.

So what are we left to do?

Maybe instead of thinking about being a perfect mom or dad, friend or relative, husband or wife… Maybe instead we should ask ourselves:

What is my role as a child of God?

What is my responsibility to the One who gives me life and light and love?

Our responsibility might look more like a challenge, for we are to grow into our God-given glory and show God’s glory to the world as best we can. We already have the glory dwelling within us. It’s our work—even through suffering and death—to grow into that glory.

We do this through grace and steadfast faith, hope, and love and whatever other gifts we are given. We study the Scripture and the lives of those in our tradition that teach us how to grow toward God. We spend our entire lives as children reaching toward our beloved parent. If we choose to grow into God’s glory, we can’t help but radiate with glory, revealing it to the world around us. We might even realize that every bit of everything is all One in God.

Recognizing our glory and seeing God’s glory in others, even if they don’t see it themselves, changes us, changes our worldview.

We come closer to seeing ourselves and those around us as I imagine God sees us,

with whole and everlasting love. So when I look out at the sea of faces, be they the children in chapel or yours here today, I know I don’t have to protect you or give any of you what’s not mine to give. My responsibility and privilege is to love you, be with you, and to share in the hope of our wholeness in God in every way I can. God’s already given you the glory, already planted that seed.

I see it in you.

I hope you see it, too.

 

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Comfortable, Not Numb

At the end of the day–most days, actually–what I really want to do is put on my jammies (if I’m not in them already) and curl up on the sofa to watch a movie, preferably a good one with a happy ending. If I’m really tired, maybe just my p.j.’s and a mindless game on the iPad. (I’ve always been a Tetris kind of gal.) There are also nights when I make myself avoid the screen and pretend like I’ll read something (because the truth is I’ll read about a paragraph before falling asleep).

What does this say about the quality of my bedtime ritual? What does this say about my self-care? My life?

This Lent, I’ve been loosely following along with SSJE’s “Growing a Rule of Life.” I already have unwritten rules, but before Easter morning, I plan to have them written because like everyone else I need structure and guidelines specific to me and my life. These guides will help and encourage me to grow in the way I believe God would have me grow. Like the garden velcro I’ve used to stake small trees or unruly tomatoes, these rules will be strong but flexible, good for now and amendable for when I’ve grown into a new stage.

I will likely have more than one rule dedicated to my care of self. I need and deserve such attention and focus.

What struck me last night as I turned to my iPad for a game was that I was seeking a quick fix for my tired body, a distraction for my weary mind. The Pink Floyd song “Comfortably Numb” popped into my head. How would such distractions actually help me? What I really needed was rest, true rest, not some kind of numbing agent to take away my awareness of what is real. What is real is my need to be mindful of myself, to acknowledge that caring for others takes a toll on oneself emotionally if not physically.

I didn’t do it last night but on the night before, I gave myself a glimpse of what might work. Compline. No screen. Not too much reading or thought required. Gentle, soothing, rhythmic words to grant me rest and comfort. Afterward, I turned out the light and settled into my pillow beneath the cool sheet and blankets. A deep, content sigh is all I remember. I wasn’t numb or distracted. I ended my day in true comfort.

My Rule won’t be about making sure my day is all comfort and zero distraction; that’s not the way life works. My Rule will be the garden velcro to help keep me closer to God when I would rather fall away into numbness. Being numb is easy in the moment, but it does nothing but stunt our growth.

 

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