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Posts Tagged ‘Religion’

Harry Edenfield, a Christian author, offers a thought-provoking daily devotional for this season of Lent.

Today’s verse is from Genesis 19:16: “But Lot lingered. So the angels seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, the Lord being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city.”

Edenfield reflects, “Lord God, your servant Lot lingered in Sodom. Sometimes I love my chosen place too much. You urge me to leave my sin spot.

I linger.

I linger even if it may be injurious to my loved ones. Remember me: I, too, need an escort from the magnet of sin.

As we leave together, Holy Spirit, urge me to have no regret about the exit from sin. Urge me not to look back.”

Amen.

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Fire dances, mesmerizes and consumes. It can quickly go from subtle, romantic and soothing, like my evening candle of ambience, to raging maniacal destruction, as I witnessed earlier this year in the aftermath of the horrors of the deathly California wild fires.

Somehow this fire display on my trip to Costa Rica last month, felt safe and calming, when surrounded by water.

Set fire to the sky, the sea and the spirit…

The Fire Dancer seduced the audience with her sultry moves, her body ever-changing with the beat of her soul

Thank You, God, for setting fires which refine and redefine, through death and rebirth. Thank You for new beginnings and for hope on the other side of destruction. Help us to always know that new growth only comes through the tests of fire.

Happy Easter, y’all!

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Duck!

We rendezvous with risk and yet pray to be rescued.

We overschedule ourselves and yet pray for rest.

We fiddle around in folly and yet pray for wisdom.

We hide from You and yet pray for Your presence.

We dance with darkness and yet pray for light.

We find ways to rationalize our wrongs and yet pray to be righteous.

We jam-pack our emptiness with clutter and yet pray for space.

We revel in dipping our toe in just a fraction of filth and yet pray to be clean.

We discount those whom You put in our path and yet pray for finer fellowship.

We enjoy a little slide down the hill and yet pray for a helping hand up.

We overindulge and yet pray for relief.

We fecklessly fool ourselves and others, and yet pray for truth.

We wage war and yet pray for peace.

We become overly focused and yet pray for perspective.

We are bountifully blessed and yet pray ever for more.

We curse the miraculous manna and yet pray for novelty.

We willfully wander and yet pray to remain on the best path.

We sneak a little snooze now and then, and yet pray for our eyes to be open.

We invest money, time and energy into enslaving ourselves, and yet pray for freedom.

We selectively listen and yearn to be heard, and yet pray to hear clearly.

We create complication and yet pray for simplicity.

Wet Sunset

God, thank You for knowing us and understanding that our shortcomings are what ultimately sharpen us…

for blessing all our brouhahas…

for Your grace in all of our gobbledygook…

…and especially for Your patience in our paradox.

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Fountain 2

My World.

My Country.

My Land.

My Sea.

(Except they really belong to You, God…thanks for letting me enjoy them while I’m here!)

p.s….happy birthday to SR, my firstborn…you’re His, too – so honored to share!

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On my way to work this morning. Absent from this vision is the chatter of the laughing gulls overhead, the intoxicating aroma of the sea blending with the morning mist rising over the field and the cool of the morning about to give way to the heat of day. And the burn of the coffee that spilled as I yanked over and out of the traffic to savor this moment…

Thank you, God, for a new day, every day!

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She bounded past the ancient oak trees dripping with Spanish moss, rounding up the walkway, vaguely hearing a fountain gurgling in the courtyard beyond. Like a rebellious child arriving late to school, she came tripping past the heavy doors which stood open facing the busy avenue. The doors were, as she was taught in preschool, purposely shaped like hands clasped together, praying and pointing Heavenward. They were also ominously dark; she was grateful they were welcomingly wide open. Had they been closed, she might have turned away.

She sat in the very back of the cathedral, the very last pew. For once she wasn’t late, but nonetheless was still the last to arrive and did not wish to be conspicuous. Everyone occupied the rear pews…no one sat in the first several pews. In fact, those in the “front” were still halfway to the back of the vast, echoey sanctuary. She was in good company; no one wanted to appear overly zealous to be repentant today, Ash Wednesday.

Making the sign of the cross as she genuflected, she quietly pulled the kneeler closer and obediently dropped down for brief prayer. As she caught her breath, she never got around to praying because the bell tower loudly proclaimed it was 12:00 noon. This proclamation took longer than she had time for prayer, and as soon as the twelfth bell bonged, the officiant appeared from nowhere and everyone abruptly stood. Rats, inadvertent noncompliance again. She quickly rose with the masses.

She noticed that the graceful trusses several stories high overhead sported a design of the Star of David. The stained glass at the front and around the sides looked ashy like the day outside, gloomy and humid. Warm, but dismal. Her eye was not drawn to the detailed pictures on the stained glass, but rather to the things that had nothing to do with why she was there: the creaky old hardwood floors, the sad reality that not enough bulletins had been printed for today because they didn’t expect as many as might should attend, and the discrepant accents of the officiants (one was notably Yankee with nasal tendencies in reciting the NeeCeene Creeeeed, the other drawled through the service with perfect Southern dialect, complete with a multisyllabic AH-may-yen).

They exhorted her to put away her thoughts and memories of days now behind.

They can make the entire float rock when they rock together in rhythm with the music...

It was a freak cold that night, but the next day was in the 70s. They keep the Christmas lights on the trees downtown through Mardi Gras.

Parades rolled night and day for the past month.

Dig the beer can on this dolphin's nose...

And don't forget the TaTas...

Secrets to catching the good stuff include holding an upside-down umbrella or hat, standing 2-3 deep (the maskers always tend to be looking into the crowd, not directly below in the front row of people), and having a handicapped child in tow.

Mardi Gras Booty (from ONE parade)

It was a drive-by service, to be sure – in and out in 25 minutes flat. There was even a monk-like sung Psalm – she at first thought it was piped in while they strode forth to the altar to receive a cross-shaped smudge of ash on their foreheads. But after she had been dutifully ashed and turned the corner to make her orderly way down the outer aisle to return to her pew, she saw it was an actual dude in a black robe up in the balcony holding the Book of Common Prayer, singing Psalm 51, just like the Psalms were meant to have been sung. Cool!

The hypocrisy did not evade her: she was painfully aware that the slap-quick service included, as is customary, an Old Testament reading and a New Testament reading…which included the verses about Jesus teaching that we are not to appear as though we are openly fasting or suffering or giving alms or whatever it is we should do in secret to the Father…and the irony of receiving an ashen cross on the forehead, being sent forth for the rest of the day to bear this mark in public. LOOK AT ME! I WENT TO CHURCH MID-WEEK AND ENGAGED IN A HOLY ACTIVITY! DID YOU?! And yet, she has seen each denomination do some of the same thing in different ways, and each denomination find scorn in the other (smug one-upmanship). Or find comfort in the one that challenges them least, then they get stuck but think they are secure.

She thought, too, about how some denominations pooh-pooh the ritual in some churches, and likewise, how the ritualized churches pooh-pooh the loosely-structured, more casual worship of non-denominational churches. But they all do the same thing…basically. One cannot say that a ritual like, say, communion, is more meaningful when it is done less often, or that those who take communion each week have fallen into a meaningless routine. Meaningless routine can sneak upon us like a thief in the night, in whatever way we (WE!) think is best to worship Him.

She then thought of her spiritual journey which brought her from this very church at birth, to other denominations and churches through various phases of her life, and remembered that He hasn’t changed, His word remains as is. Man can create their variations of worship, but it all boils down to our relationship with God, from our hearts, and man is not to judge. There is no way he possibly can. God gives us His Word to go by…and in that we can know what He expects – and it is okay to worship this way or that way – it is our heart He sees, our intent. An ages-old ritual can be tired or fresh, depending on the participant…just as can the more modern, less-structured formats can incite zealous fire yielding to years of unhealthy comfort.

To her, it was old ritual seen anew, with refreshed meaning in the act of repentance…an exercise in evaluation the journey past, the current state of the heart, and the intentions for the future. The message was the same whether coming from an evangelical bent or a formalized, old-church ritual.

What’s old is new. And vice versa.

Man is naturally a hypocrite (Paul summed it up nicely in his exposition of doing what he willed not to do and not doing what he willed to do). As long as men and women worship Him in any fashion, there will be hypocrisy. It is the curse of human nature…unavoidable, and certainly no excuse to avoid Him.

She knew God was looking at her heart, though, and there was nowhere to hide. She had to take inventory of the ways she had erred to excess in worldliness, in sin, in indulgence, in thoughts and feelings and actions…and it was high time to turn the steering wheel back over to Him, to apologize and sacrifice. Those who don’t believe in God, surely find themselves in positions to do the same with those whom they’ve disappointed. It is only human to humble ourselves when we reach a point of over-indulgence in folly, and folly is never known until hindsight. It is how we little children grow and develop, and is quite natural, and good. He rejoices in our growth process.  It is how we draw nearer to Him. It is how even our stumblings are occasion to celebrate.

So what did she give up for Lent?

That shall remain between her and Him!

What she wants to know is, what in blazes (no pun intended) was burned to create the sticky ashes glued to her forehead?!

All she knows is it is Her privilege to sacrifice so little for what He sacrificed so greatly, for us all.

Are you stuck? Change! Move! Vamoose! You may move, but He won’t, so don’t be afraid.

He will be wherever you land, waiting for you, as always.

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Did you ever have something happen in your life that made you realize that it wasn’t God that was bigger than a problem, but it was YOU that got bigger, and God had stayed the same as He always was? He is, after all the Rock, they say. He doesn’t shift and grow. We do.

I, in all my self-imposed Christian wisdom (along with self-righteous Biblical interpretation (which justified my self-imposed Christian wisdom), was taught a huge lesson this week in spiritual perspective.

I had always thought, believed and “known” that “my” interpretation of God’s way was right (or pretty right, anyway), and that others were just blind to the truth. Poor them. Poor me.

This week God put a child in my path who has shown me that He has not, is not, and will not change. It is I who must change.

Today I spent 6 hours in a classroom/lab and learned how the Gulf of Mexico has a current that goes from southeast to northwest, which is why it always appears that my family has moved their encampment on the beach way to the right, after I’ve been boogie boarding the waves for more than 15 minutes.

And this week my sands shifted just a little bit, thanks to His righteous current.

I had the sensation I sometimes had riding the “L” in Chicago, or a roller coaster when slightly disoriented. Your brain knows it is you moving, but for a brief sensation of a moment, we are buffaloed into perceiving that we are not moving, but rather the contents outside the car appear to be moving…concrete sidewalks, walls and all.

Or like when I couldn’t even see my family, much less any strand of beach, once I’d swam all the way out to the border-buoy.

Or like when we find ourselves gazing up at the stars on a clear night with no earthly interference. We see the stars so clearly; their winking twinkle is comforting…like a baby strapped into a baby-contraption. There is security in knowing our place. All is well when we are dependent on One who is greater, stronger. That primal feeling then gives way to the realization of how SMALL we are…and the insecurities of our insignificance quietly simmer and bubble forth as we gaze.

We are so miniscule!

How we strive to jockey for our perceptions of greatness on this tiny planet! No wonder we think size matters.

And yet, there is so much more beyond, in the universe and in the unknown dimensions.

I, who have always advocated for X, Y and Z in my Christian walk, was introduced to a little fellow – and I mean LITTLE – this week, who has seen all, done all and been there done that. No child should ever have been exposed to what he has come to know as normal and right. So I now find myself in a position of having to help this child, and the only way to help him, to bring him closer to half a chance at a decent life, to bring him closer to God, is to help him in ways that I had previously been indoctrinated NOT to do.

How confusing is that?! The ways society and Christianity says are “right” and “good,” and now a child is so messed up, that the only path for him to have a crack at right and good flies directly in the face of what man dictates is right and good?!

Yes, God is SO much bigger than any box we put Him in. Just when we think we have it all sewn up and figured out, God will set us straight….

Self-righteousness sux.

Perhaps the walk closer to Him means taking a more circuitous route. They say the path is narrow, but that doesn’t mean that narrow path doesn’t meander around and venture near the lapping flames of Hell, rendering one parched and singed, making the reward all that more refreshing.

How much more meaningful is meaning, after a desert of meaninglessness.

Cold water only feels good when you’re nice ‘n hot, baby.

Thank you, God, for expanding the puny universe of my pea-brain…thanks for greater perspective…and for helping me to color outside Your lines.

What has rocked your spiritual plumb?

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To rise at 5:30 or 6?

Stockings before (like usual) or after (why not?) presents?

Should we make the kids call everybody and wake them up and thank them early while they’re full of zeal for each item, or wait till the day has worn on and we’re more prone to deep conversations like, “Um, thanks grandma, for the, um…that, er, thing you got me.”

How many sweets to allow before church?

Did the baby’s face get scratched in the nursery of his own doing, or was he really mauled by a ferocious bear like he insisted?

If the matron in the nursery thought Daddy was his grandpa, who in blazes did she think I was?

Kid darting in way of scalding water being poured down sink during meal prep: pour it on me instead?

How much will Christmas dinner menu shrink when Daddy and the boys have to cook it themselves while Mommy soaks her melted fingers?

Will they think it’s a ploy that got me out of both cooking AND dishes? (Scored!!!)

Are the new pet cockatiels always going to act this neurotic, or are they just mimicking the children who are jacked up on all manner of sugar?

Is feeling full after one helping a sign of good health or old age?

Pier or beach?

Crabbing or casting?

How could we forget to ask the man in the wooden canoe before he paddled away again, how long it was taking him to get from Cedar Rapids, Iowa to Fort Myers, Florida? And what did he have in his two little backpacks for that long trip, anyway?

Is it my imagination or does it already seem to be starting to stay lighter, later?

How long before they notice all the loud toys have gradually and mysteriously wound up in the loud toy time out twilight zone?

Should we send out terribly late Christmas cards, or make a slide show and distribute it electronically tonight?

Will all four of them ever stand still long enough within 2 feet of each other so we can take a picture? A picture without motion blurs and bunny ears behind the heads of the unsuspecting?

What’s more relaxing to listen to at dusk on Christmas, the comforting creak of the porch swing, or the winter-faint chorus of crickets?

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Enough gluttony (physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, electronic) to crave fasting…

Enough slothfulness to look forward to exertion…

Enough mayhem to search for peace…

Enough noise to worship silence…

Enough diversion to seek and appreciate routine…

…no wonder New Year’s resolutions are so popular.

God, help us to keep our focus on You…You are peace. Help us return to this after all our busy-ness in this season which is supposed to honor Your Son, but has somehow turned into a worldly diversion from You. Help us be quiet, be still, be disciplined, and at peace…with You. Help us choose to slow down before You slow us down. Thank You for giving us things to consider, and choices to make…let us choose You.

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I have orders to be still.  I am to be still and know that You are God. I know You are, but what am I? I try my best to be still and know You, but I kind of get distracted. It seems like the only still I can be is…

…still adventure-seeking

…still restless

…still unquenchable

…still risk-taking

…still hopelessly curious

…still coveting

…still daring

…still multi-tasking

…still dreadfully bored and out of my element when forced to be still

Yes, I am still, alright…still all those things, and plenty more mischief if I devoted more time to the notion. They say that personality is pretty much solidified in your late 20’s to about 30ish. If so, I’m in trouble, God, when it comes to that order to learn to be still. Can I be unstill, and still know You as You intended? Or am I basically screwed, doomed to a lifetime of blissfully busy ignorance, followed by eternal wood, hay and stubble? Is there ever a solution?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

She climbs a tree and scrapes her knee
Her dress has got a tear
She waltzes on her way to Mass
And whistles on the stair
And underneath her wimple
She has curlers in her hair
I even heard her singing in the abbey

She’s always late for chapel
But her penitence is real
She’s always late for everything
Except for every meal
I hate to have to say it
But I very firmly feel
Maria’s not an asset to the abbey

I’d like to say a word in her behalf
Maria makes me laugh

How do you solve a problem like Maria?
How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?
How do you find a word that means Maria?
A flibbertijibbet! A will-o’-the wisp! A clown!

Many a thing you know you’d like to tell her
Many a thing she ought to understand
But how do you make her stay
And listen to all you say
How do you keep a wave upon the sand

Oh, how do you solve a problem like Maria?
How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?

When I’m with her I’m confused
Out of focus and bemused
And I never know exactly where I am
Unpredictable as weather
She’s as flighty as a feather
She’s a darling! She’s a demon! She’s a lamb!

She’d outpester any pest
Drive a hornet from its nest
She could throw a whirling dervish out of whirl
She is gentle! She is wild!
She’s a riddle! She’s a child!
She’s a headache! She’s an angel!
She’s a girl!

How do you solve a problem like Maria?
How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?
How do you find a word that means Maria?
A flibbertijibbet! A will-o’-the wisp! A clown!

Many a thing you know you’d like to tell her
Many a thing she ought to understand
But how do you make her stay
And listen to all you say
How do you keep a wave upon the sand

Oh, how do you solve a problem like Maria?
How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?

~~Rodgers & Hammerstein, “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria,” from The Sound of Music

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Must I learn to be still, if I know that You are omnipresent wherever I may flit? I mean, I go running off on a tangent, and *POOF* not only are You already there, but You already knew I was going to go there and when…long before I did. I keep bumping into smack-dab into You no matter how far off-track I get. So, why must I be still?

Perhaps the journey we take of never quite measuring up is precisely measuring up in Your eyes, since you sent Jesus to take care of the details for us. Maybe our expectations of ourselves are greater than Yours in Your wisdom.

Lord, let us flibbertijibbets keep our hearts in the right place, focused on You, even though we may have curlers on under our wimples and be late to everything except our favorite events in life. Let it be that You might smile on our irreverent whistling despite what the Pharisees would say, knowing that our whistling is a spontaneous expression of our joy for all You have given and made us. Let the songbird not be silenced. Thank you for letting me dance on the beach as the wind and the waves move me (why should I wait for tourist season to be over and still hope that no one might be watching?). Thank You for loving us as we are, even if we just cannot seem to discipline ourselves to be still.

I might be stuck like a statue of stone if I stood too still.

Thank You, Lord, for moving me.

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Lingering at the island’s only stop sign, I was reluctant to make the turn which led to the bridge to the mainland. I was at the mercy of Time, and had to go. The only consolation was the obligation to be at another beach in a different part of the state by a certain time. Still, the need to linger was paramount, and no promise of paradise could eradicate the innate drive in the quest to rest.

To be still.

But also to trust, even if this creature of habit preferred to stay put and revel in the status quo, that the change would yield fresh opportunity.

The mental condensation must be wiped down after its inevitable buildup, caused by sitting too long in one spot. It is the only way we can see things anew.

Arriving at the next destination, the margarita tasted even better beside the palm trees, with the din of the zealous fans of the favored football team co-mingling with the incoming rhythm of the sea. Touchdown!

And just like the game, all good things must come to an end: eventually it was time to find a deserted stretch of beach to celebrate a momentous occasion, which involved the end of one era and the welcoming of another. The pause to do so was all too short, however. I tried, with all my power, to stop the mighty sun from sinking into the next time zones, wistful that I could not control, capture and retain these moments at will. My will.

But it had to be His.

Thus, I could fight what was to be, or take the next step into the future, complete with my expectations, be they accurate or not. One step at a time, each step involving a choice as to whether I would have the courage to be open and flexible in the face of the Unknown, or whether I would stubbornly resist destiny, clinging to those experiences I have become accustomed to and comfortable with. After all, it took a lot of work to embrace the last batch of novelty.

Yes, the week was rife with forced choices to move forward or stay put and risk getting stuck. I just wanted to stay on that spot in the sand, where I’d worked hard to master the footing; it was warm and comfortable. But the external forces persisted, and my balance was compromised. I had to forfeit what was, for what was to be. I had to go forth. And I had to make the best of it.

Looking back at the tracks I made in the sand over this past week, I see that by moving forward, I did not get stuck. I did not get off track. I did not always feel comfortable moving forward, but I did, and the result was a satisfying path leading from past to future. I noticed that the path was easier when I adjusted my attitude accordingly, and turned my sights from what was, toward what might be, with eager anticipation. Walking in the sand is really hard; running is even harder. And tiring. But taking it one step at a time was manageable, and afforded me the time to adjust to the forward movement, without getting too caught up in the grief of losing what had been.

I thought about the number of people who moved with me this week, some of them kicking and screaming, but moving forward nonetheless. Painful, but productive. We are all stronger and wiser for it, even though it involved moving through difficult sands.

I thought about the multitudes on Facebook who are loudly protesting radical changes. Is it more that they’ve grown comfortable, or the notion that another is in control?

As I helplessly permitted the preoccupied sun to drain from my world last night, I thought perhaps I would keep part of the day as a souvenir into the night, by letting my physical state linger as long as possible. I would refuse to gain control of the unruly condition in which the sea had left me: artistically random strands of hair bonded by the sweet salty mist; dried salt creeping up my legs as far as the warm water had willed, the sand around my ankles refusing to let go. Yes, I would remain in this state as long as I dared, so as to savor the scent of the day I could not stop from ending.

In the inevitable shower, I thought about various forces which propelled me forward in other ways this week, learning to be okay with knowing things I’d rather not know, with not knowing things I’m dying to know, or how things will turn out, or what will become of things, or how I will be prepared – or not – for storms ahead.

Regardless, it is imperative that we take the next step, even though we may not fully know where our next step may be, or how it will feel. Or how it will change us. Or where it will take us.

Hey, God…thank you for helping us move forward, for guiding our next steps, and for blessing us with graceful confidence in the Unknown.

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