Power for Purpose

 

Isaiah 62:1-5 | 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 | John 2:1-11

We pass signs all day long, often reading them without thinking. One of my kids’ kindergarten teachers showed me that children, even before they can read, can tell what company, store, or restaurant a sign–or well-branded logo–represent. Looking at the exercise sheet, I realized at a glance that I could, too. I mean, it’s hard to miss the Golden Arches or the Coca-Cola script. How often is it that when we see something, we know exactly what it means, what it represents? Jesus turns water into wine at a wedding feast, and this is the first of his signs. Honestly, we’re a little clearer on the cross and what it means and choose that for our corporate branding–and it works well, don’t get me wrong. But there’s something to this little water to wine miracle that saved a celebratory feast, something about Jesus doing what only he could do: using his power for a purpose.

I wonder what made Mary think that Jesus could do something about the situation. We’ve probably all been at parties that are starting to turn south–it could be that the d.j. is bad or the food or drink runs out too soon. It gets embarrassing, really; at a wedding it can be truly humiliating. I read in a commentary that perhaps Jesus and his buddies didn’t bring their contribution to the wedding and could have been part of the reason for the early shortage–a good reason for a mother to call out her son. But maybe Mary’s reasoning came from the hunch of a mother who had faced difficult times before and had been comforted by this special child, now a man. Maybe in years before, Jesus has showed her hands that could soothe a tired and weary mind, eyes that could console the sorrowful, and laughter that brought joy to the surface. Maybe those were some of Mary’s experiences that made her, in this situation, look to her beloved son to make things right.

And he could.

And he did.

The act was performed. Witnesses beheld the miracle. A feast was redeemed, made even better than before. Surely the guests were enlivened by the freely flowing spirit around them. (I think there’s some foreshadowing here of what will be when Jesus’s true hour has come.)

Even though he says his hour hasn’t yet come, when called upon, Jesus performs the task at hand. Like us, Mary sees what is before her and can foresee the disaster about to unfold. Jesus, however, with the mind of God, probably thought on a different scale. On a scale both large and small, Jesus makes the world a better place. Jesus brings light into the world by the very nature of who he is, both God and man. Yes, Jesus, the bridal party is out of wine; make these jars full of wine through the power of Spirit, as you will, in time, fill our cups with promise of life everlasting. We see what you’re doing here.

This wedding miracle is not itself a simple sign, a mere advertising gimmick branding Jesus as miracle worker, though a miracle worker he is. He who is wisdom and light bears this gift . . . and all the other gifts of Spirit, too, because that’s his nature. Jesus is the Son of God. His very nature is his power, and he chooses to use it for a purpose, drawing us ever closer into relationship as a bridegroom does his bride.

At our baptisms, we are bestowed with gifts of the Spirit.

Each of us has gifts.

Each of us has power.

A few years ago at the Choir Camp Festival Day at Subiaco Abbey, I saw a friend whom I hadn’t seen in years. It was quiet, of course, prior to the service, so I couldn’t squeal in delight as some of us are prone to do, but I did sort of leap up and outstretch my arms, greeting her with a huge smile and an all-embracing hug. We stepped apart, still holding arms, and smiled some more, not saying a word. It was just a moment. Joyful, beautiful, and heartwarming.

As she turned toward her seat, I heard a man’s voice say, “Sara, be careful how you use that power.” In the pew behind me sat my liaison to the Commission on Ministry. I hadn’t yet left for seminary but was already deep in the discernment process. I still haven’t forgotten what he said or the way he looked at me with wise eyes and a knowing smile.

I have come to see my smile as a gift, one I freely share with others, but it is only a sign of the greater gift that is joy. Though I thank my parents for getting me braces when I was younger, you can’t buy joy that a genuine smile conveys. A true gift is precious and priceless, which is part of the reason why we feel such loss when those who share their gifts with us die. There’s a collective grieving this week with the loss of David Bowie and Alan Rickman. And if we think of others whom we have loved and lost, their gifts, too, often come to mind because when they shared those gifts, we knew we were witnessing something special if not miraculous.

Paul says,

“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

Our gifts aren’t ours alone. What greater service than to share our gifts with others? What greater good than sharing our gift as a sign of Christ’s presence in the world, shining light into what can often be a dismal scene?

I hope that we are all aware of some of our gifts. Sometimes we need someone to point them out to us. It’s completely normal to take what comes naturally for granted. That doesn’t make it a good thing, but it happens. Moms can be great people to call out our gifts. A friend who knows you well or even a complete stranger can also recognize a gift if they’re paying attention. Just this week at the elementary school where I mentor, while I was signing out of the computer, a man told the others in the office, “You know, if everyone had a smile like that woman, the world would be a better place.”

Maybe it’s your smile. Maybe it’s your music. Maybe it’s your sportsmanship or prowess with numbers; your ability to operate on bodies or manage corporations or build bridges, towers, or spacecraft. Maybe it’s your intuition, your understanding, your ability to be present. Whatever your gifts–because we do have more than one–I urge you to recognize it and nurture it. Give thanks to God for it and pray for guidance in how and when to use it for the common good, especially if it fosters faith, hope, and love. We can’t count on someone else to be or do something better because God needs each of us to shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory in the world as only we can.

Like the servants ladling out the wine from the jars that they were just sure held water, there are going to be times when we are amazed at what we can bring to those in our midst by the power of the Spirit. We do our work to the best of our ability, rising to the occasion when we are called. We, too, can use our power for a purpose. We ourselves are walking billboards, signs of all shapes, colors, and sizes, pointing to the glory of God.

 

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Why Am I NOT Writing?

A tree doesn’t try to be a lightpost.  Moonflowers don’t blossom during the day.  When my thoughts continuously, incessantly form themselves into at least somewhat coherent sentences or intriguing essays, why am I not writing them onto a page or screen?

If I believe so much in one’s authentic being, if I know without doubt part of what I am called to do in this life, then why am I not doing it?

It’s hard.

It’s easier to maintain a facade of what’s expected.  It’s easier to flow with the crowd through the mainstream canal, anonymous, seemingly indifferent, unaffected, doing nothing to roughen the waters.

Or is it?

The cacophonous buzz of the masses contrasts greatly with the passionate hum of conversation found amidst a group of people sharing in lives of authenticity.  Is the disquiet of the soul, the unrest of a tortured spirit worth the weight of carrying around a mask, an appearance of being something or someone we’re not?  I’ve always known there is greater beauty in a natural brooke meandering through the woods than in a concrete, polluted city canal.

If all I have to be is myself, then may I have the courage of Lady Godiva to go boldly through the village, my life, claiming nothing but what is mine.

There are no good excuses; there are only excuses.  An excuse is merely apologizing for not doing something, being ashamed of what is or justifying the absence of it.  I owe it to myself to be fully honest.  I make my own choices, whatever the circumstances.  I am certainly not sorry for who I am.

I celebrate my gifts and give thanks, whether they be talents God-given or skills I have to work hard at.  I hope you can know enough about yourself to do the same.  May every day bring us the courage to write, to do what we’re given to do, participating in the creativity of Life.

And I figure if I can get up at 5:30 AM to do this, then that’s a good place to begin again.  I hope this is the beginning of a trend.

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Letter to My Best Friends

Dear Hearts (yes, this includes you),

I remember the night I sat in a class about the “authentic” journey, making a list of those I admire.  I remember the shock, near horror, of being told that I possess the qualities of those I admire.  How could I possibly possess their qualities, their potential?  But my denial or disbelief doesn’t change what is.

Now it’s a new year, particularly the Twelfth Day of Christmas, and I find myself richly blessed, ready to embrace the present truly as the gift it is.  I give thanks for all the past has brought me.  I read through my gratitude journal from the past year, and I could feel the radiance of love, warmth, and joy.  Looking forward into this year, I know these blessings will continue.  I have an optimistic yet realistic view on what this year brings.  It includes hard work, but it also brings growth and progress in all aspects of my life.  I hope your friendship will endure my work.  Though I may not seem as available as I’ve been, know that your presence abides with me.

I realize that you, too, are on the list among those I admire, and you, too, teach me much about who I can be, who I am.  Your love, companionship, laughter, warmth, appreciation, humor, gratitude, hope, inspiration, gentleness, faith, doubt, will, strength, perseverance and openness are just a few of the things I count among our treasures.  Thank you for teaching me and allowing me to teach you, as the aikido sensei is fond of saying.

It may be a new year, but it is just another day.  Each day the sun rises, we have the opportunity to take yet another cleansing breath, let it all go, and begin again.  Thank you for sharing your journey with me.  I look forward to all that is to come, but mostly, I give thanks for all that is.  You here, now, is a gift.  You have my love and gratitude, now as always.

xoxo,

Sara

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Indian Summer

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This whole week embodies an Indian summer.  We’ve had our first frost.  All the trees have come aglow, and most have dropped their leaves.  I chanced upon this ginko tree at the park the day before Halloween; they drop their leaves so quickly.  Their golden leaves must be too heavy to hold for long.

And this week (which happened to include my birthday) reminds me of the renewal I feel in the fall, the creativity, optimism and groundedness.  Quite simply, I give thanks.  My blessings abound.  My gifts continue to create a beautiful harvest and provide me with plenty of work to be joyfully busy.

Even when the sun hides behind the clouds, as it undoubtedly will sometime soon, and the nighttime increases, I’ll let the Light glow from within and cherish the time to let my hands create gifts for those I love.

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Christmas Work Has Begun

After promising myself I would get started in July, I’ll have to settle for starting in October.

The first gift gives me practice at switching colors while knitting, which will be good preparation for another scarf of many colors and great length.  🙂  Other gifts this season will include pottery, quilts, sewing and baking as we continue in developing our tradition of handmade gifts and quality time together.  I hope for you much the same in the upcoming season.

IMG_1808_1For this project, though, I give thanks for Charmed Knits.  So far, though I’ve been working on it openly, none of the kids know for whom the scarf is being made.  (They have figured out it is a scarf.)

I highly recommend the double-layer scarf done on the circular needles.  There’s something highly comforting about knitting every row; it’s downright meditative.

If I don’t think it will give the gifts away, I’ll share photos of other gifts as they’re in progress.

Enjoy!

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Claiming Our Gifts

The Journey to Authenticity class that I’m taking continues.  We’ve worked to discover some of our current gifts, focusing heavily on the spiritual.  But what I’ve learned from my own work and the work of others is that we know these gifts; they are the qualities we admire in others, everything we hope to be — that is us, too . . . already . . . in this very moment.

The hurdle, of course, is whether or not we will accept the gifts we are given, whether we will receive our gift and then use it to give to others.  Perhaps this presents two hurdles (i.e. 1- accept the gift of being a writer; 2- write and share it with others).  We may not want to accept the responsibility that comes with claiming a gift.  We don’t want to make our life more difficult than it already is.  Chances are, we’re too busy to commit to yet another something-or-other.  Believe me, I know.

But do we really want to become stagnant?  Does it make you happy to watch reality t.v., eat your processed, refined, pre-made meals?  Are you just hoping that your kids turn out better than you? 

Wake up, my friend.  Now is not the time to be waiting.

We think we’re too busy, but unless all our time is taken up doing good for others, using our talents to the best of our ability, we’re not busy with the right things.  Re-evaluate.  Find your center.  Start over if you need to. 

Give yourself time, though; I’m talking years, if necessary.  Because this process takes time, you can’t wait until you feel like it.  It won’t get easier.  Take baby steps.  Keep your center.  Find a companion (or a few) to hold you accountable, to encourage you.  You may be surprised.  I know I am.

Happiness is an ever-elusive something we say we want.  It’s just a word, though.  For me, happiness is that feeling in a moment when I know I’m in the right place, when my soul seems to sing from within and shine without.  Often, we have to work for these moments. We have to keep growing, keep learning, keep the flow moving through us so that we don’t become stagnant.

Notice your gifts.  Honor them.  Claim them.  Use them.  And with all your heart, Trust, mindfully enjoying all the moments of happiness along the way.

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No Time Like the Present

No matter what your political persuasion, I hope everyone took time to vote today.  I got in my ballot last week, sans children, though it’s a great idea to get your kids involved, too.  It might also be worthwhile to document your feelings on this “landmark election” for its “historical” value (as all the talk keeps saying).  Truly, your grandchildren might ask you about it 50 years from now.

Not as pressing as voting, but perhaps of great importance to those little ones expecting surprises in upcoming months are those holiday gifts.  Ah, yes.  I said I wouldn’t put it off this year, and I did it anyway.  My husband said we are not glazing on Christmas Eve this year, and I do not intend to be working those last stitches Christmas day on whatever knitting project I end with!  So, now’s the time to finalize our list.

You better believe the only items we’ll be buying are basic supplies.  No pre-packaged retail gifts, except maybe books.  If you need some ideas, here are a sampling of ours.

  • Scarves — sewn or knit
  • Slippers — felted (if I can learn in time!)
  • Pottery — various hopefully practical items
  • Hats — knit
  • Gift boxes — paper/cardboard; sometimes the packaging is part of the gift, too

If you don’t have time to make your own goods, remember the importance of buying local, supporting work-at-home moms, buying handmade and being as eco-friendly as possible.  “Google” any of those topics if you want a slew of information.  If you choose the “recycling” route, make sure it’s not tacky and will be okay in the situation.  A good friend of mine does not appreciate that her children’s gifts are garage sale finds when everyone else gets a packaged new item.

Enjoy being thoughtfully creative.  The love and care you put into a
gift is as much a blessing to the receiver as the gift itself, if not
more so.

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Receiving

As mothers we receive lots of things.  The bills, the colds, the art projects, our friends’ recipes, hugs and kisses and each other’s support, if we’re fortunate enough to have a network.  There are all kinds of material and immaterial “things” we take in all day long.  I wonder if that might be one reason moms are usually so generous, volunteering in multiple and diverse ways.

But think of a time when you were really looking forward to something.  A care package from a distant friend?  A tax refund?  Your kids from camp?  How about waiting for a baby’s conception?  News that the tumor was benign?

There’s a tremendous relief, joy and lightheartedness at the arrival, isn’t there?  I want to find a way to incorporate every part of my day as something to be received graciously.  I want to be joyful when I pick up my kids from school rather than seeing it as another errand.  Perhaps all I need to do is be mindfully present, and the joy will lie therein.  Easily said, right?

But what about receiving the overdrafts, the malignant tumor, the death we hadn’t prepared for?  Will receiving those mindfully make them less worse?  As humans, I suppose it’s our lot in life to “take the good, . . . take the bad.”  (My 80s-t.v.- influenced mind plays “The Facts of Life” theme song in my head.)  As mothers it seems we have a significant influence on how our family faces each moment.  How many of us have weathered the storm with an assuring hug and comforting words even as our own stomachs turned and hearts raced?  Of course, I don’t just mean thunderstorms.

Mother, father, man or woman, we don’t always have a choice about what we are receiving, but we can choose how we receive it.  We are, after all, setting an example for our children and all those in our presence.  I can’t help but think that we need to be humble and gracious when receiving life’s blessings, and when faced with tribulations, we can all hope to be honest and strong.  A network of support never hurts, either.

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