I was reading an excerpt from a book by #LaurenceFreeman this past week. One sentence has stuck with me; “Answers are not what we need. What we need are questions which cannot be answered.” I read and reread this selection many times.
We live in a world, perhaps humanity is made this way by our cultures and societies, in which answers are what we seek and find. While certainly, we would want answers, conclusions, discoveries, of the sort which would end poverty, crime, diseases, however, the most important answers are the ones which cannot be answered.
This is a paradox. Answers comfort us, direct us, help us find our way in the world. However, answers do not lead us to the most important of all truths. God, for example, is by definition, one who cannot be fully and completely known. The deeper we dig to find knowledge of God the more questions we find. It is the same with our existence, our purpose our place in the universe.
Silence as the answer to life’s biggest questions. Many say if you cannot or will not look for the answer then why ask the question? It is when we are able to be still and silent in our souls with the greatest questions unanswered that we find the path of wisdom.
Don’t Move –
Yesterday, taking a break from yard work on a hot day in May, I sat on the porch wiping the sweat off my brow with a towel and drinking a bottle of water. As I sat there a brown bird, who has a nest in the corner of the porch swooped down and landed on my leg. I froze. A bird landing on me was awesome but I didn’t dare move for fear of scaring it away. Sweat poured down my face, my tired arms and restless legs immovable. It seemed like it was forever but I knew it was only a few minutes until I had to dry the sweat from my eyes and take another drink of water. Predictably, the bird flew off as soon as I moved. For a second, however, I was still enough to enjoy the experience.
It’s hard being still in today’s world. We miss so much because we are so busy. We’ve got places to go and people to see. Schedules have to be kept and filled calendars emptied.
I wonder how many small wonders we miss because life’s most important moments are only ours to experience if we’d simply be still?
When I was a student at Trevecca Nazarene University one of the classes I took was a spiritual formation class. On the first day, the teacher of the class lit a candle and told us it represented the presence of the Holy Spirit, alive, moving and not be captured or coerced. He lit the candle at every class. For some, it was probably hokey but for me, it was my first step into Contemplative Christianity which eventually led me to become a Benedictine Oblate (http://www.osb.org/obl/intro.html).
Another discipline we would learn and one I still do to this day is praying Psalm 46:10; “Be Still and Know I am God.” We would sit quietly and begin by quoting the entire verse and then let a word(s) drop off after saying each phrase multiple times…
“Be Still and Know I am God
Be Still and Know I am
Be Still and Know
When we arrived at; “Be” it was understood we found ourselves, our true selves, only in God. God wasn’t number one, he was the only one and everything else found its place in Him.
I follow this rhythmic prayer, often praying; “Be Still.” many times between rising in the morning and going to bed at night. It focuses, settles and comforts me or rather the words open my spirit and remind me I am because God allows me to be.
It has begun!
Several weeks ago my wife and I hired someone to remodel our bathroom. Today, they started. I work at home and it wasn’t easy to focus on anything with the bathroom being demolished a few feet away.
A safe space is important for someone like me who’s battling a major depressive disorder and a severe anxiety disorder or another who deals with any mental health issues. We need a quiet, mostly uninterrupted space where we can collect our thoughts, process the day that was and prepare for the next day. This week I don’t have that and it has me concerned.
In times and seasons when our rhythm is disrupted, our safe space invaded, what we use to cope is taken away, we need to remember that all outward places we look for protection are not always available. The safest space is in the arms of grace, a deep abiding peace which travels with you wherever you go.
“If, as adults, we are only preoccupied by the security of our borders we have not matured as human beings capable of real freedom, of seeing the happiness of being citizens in the world of virtue – goodness, kindness, humanity, compassion. In this world of grace there are no borders.”
Above is a portion of my morning reading this Lenten season devotional of 2017. It speaks to one of the most difficult battles we fight as people, a nation, and a community of faith.
It’s easy to separate ourselves from the world. To erect borders, laws, litmus tests, even vote for silly ideas such as a border wall which also includes 800+ miles of the Rio Grande river. We pull away from strangers and those different from us because we’re afraid. We’re afraid of losing things, being infected by things, having our normal lives disrupted and changed forever.
The last couple of months I’ve been on a Jars of Clay binge. In the house, on the lawn mower, in the truck, it’s all I’ve been listening to. Moving from one album to another, no particular order. This week it’s been; “The Long Fall Back to Earth. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Long_Fall_Back_to_Earth)” The album is a unique one for the group as they experiment with a break from their usual sound. There is a song entitled on the album; “Headphones” that speaks to the temptation to stay in our own world as the rest of the world goes to hell. Its poignant and has resonated in my spirit the last few days.
I awoke this Palm Sunday to the news that cowardly suicide bombers had killed at least 50 people in two different attacks as they worshiped this last Sunday before Easter. My heart hurt for my brothers and sisters. There are no borders when it comes to pain, empathy, hope and help.
“In the world of grace there are no borders.”
I feel embarrassed to admit I am sitting on the couch, pajama pants rolled up to the knees with my feet soaking in hot water, mixed with Epsom salt. I’m not sure why it’s hard to admit except it doesn’t seem very manly. Of course, that’s a sexist thing to write and it feels really good! Foot massages are for everyone.
The last couple of weeks my feet have been hurting. I’ve bought a pack of gel insoles and arch supports but still after a long day my feet hurt to walk on. The other day I asked Beth if we had a foot massage and she said perhaps but it’s packed up in a box in the shed. It was her idea to add the Epsom salt. So today, I bought a water, foot massage, a big bag of Epsom salt and here I sit.
This has been a long, busy, tough week. My thoughts are in different places with people who are facing difficult challenges in the weeks, months and perhaps years to come. If had a foot massage and some Epsom salt for each of them it would be awesome. However, I also know that even if their feet felt better they would still have to overcome some intimidating obstacles to regain their health and well-being.
I can’t take away the pain, the disease, the needs. I can, however, pray and trust that in some way those who are worried, uncertain and hurting tonight can find comfort and contentment in the midst of it all.
An Anxious Word –
I didn’t sleep well last night. I am facing a real fear today. At 9:00AM I will be walking into a dentists’ office for oral surgery. There are a lot of people who are afraid of the dentist but for me; someone who’s diagnosed with severe anxiety and clinical claustrophobia, there is a growing anxiety and sense of dread that’s been building for several days. Beth has taken the day off to help me through this which is one more reason I love being married to someone who accepts me and all my baggage.
Waking up early this morning, after a night of tossing and turning, I sat on the couch and began the morning portion of the Daily Office. The first words each day are; “Let’s begin our morning in silence.” I took deep breaths and, like everyday, recited a section of my favorite Psalm, 46, which says; “Be still and know.” Then my prayers and readings began. I have most of the Daily Office memorized after many years of using it but the chosen Psalm for the day was a surprise. It was Psalm 46. I recognized it immediately and the words gave me a greater sense of calm and assurance. It was a settling word in the deep places where my anxiety seems to flow from…it didn’t take away the fear but it gave me wisdom, truth, to counter the fear within.
I don’t know what kind of shape I’ll be in the rest of the day so I wanted to write this post out of thankfulness for God’s word always being what my soul needs to hear and to ask, if you think of me, please say a prayer.
Struggling on Father’s Day-
My heart is heavy on this Father’s day. I have a great dad who has sacrificed much for me and did his best, always, to be a good role model, showing me how to be a good man. I am thankful for the love and support he gives me.
No, my heart is heavy because of a father I know who lost his son this past week. His son, who had just graduated high school, his whole life ahead of him, gone in an instant. My heart is heavy for those men killed in Orlando, Florida a week ago. A community where fathers’ criess of brokenness and loss still fill the air. My heart is heavy for friends and others I know whose fathers have died, leaving a hole no one else can fill. My heart is heavy for the men in my Incarcerated Dad’s classes who want to be good fathers. They want to love their kids but sometimes don’t know how. They long to see their children but mothers, partners and wives choose to keep them away because of the jail environment and choices these men have made. I’ve heard and seen tributes to fathers today in church, on Facebook walls, Sunday television shows and my spirit aches.
Wisdom teaches that our lives are as vapor. A wisp of wind and they are gone. Like summer grass that springs up in the morning but is withered in the heat of the day. I think of fathers gone too soon and children snatched from the clutches of those who loved them dearly and sigh. It may be Father’s Day but for some the day does not bring happiness.
It’s cool today. The first day of spring may just be around the corner but a blustery wind is sweeping in a cold front this afternoon.
Earlier, Trooper, our Siberian Husky, and I sat outside waiting for Beth to get home. I’ve been trying to spend more time with him since we said; “goodbye” to Belle, our Golden Retriever, on Thursday. We haven’t changed anything yet in the room the dogs stay in. We’re waiting and watching Trooper to see how he’ll react without his “sister.” He looks for her and wanders a bit, unsure of his surroundings. Belle’s heavy breathing and congestion provided a constant reminder of her presence but now it’s very quiet. Everyone in the family is adjusting and using one another for comfort and consolation. Each day gets a little better.
As we sat outside waiting I noticed a lone purple flower blossoming in the midst of some rocks. It was a pleasant reminder that hope and beauty can bloom in the most desolate places.
Our Golden retriever, Belle, is almost 15 years old. She struggles with seeing, hearing, walking and a host of other ailments. Recently she’s began to have trouble controlling her bowels and bladder. Our other dog, a Siberian Husky named “Trooper” likes to sleep next to her at night. During the day he hangs out on another rug in the kitchen. Because of Belle’s maladies the decision has been made to shorten Trooper’s inside leash so that he can’t get to Belle’s rug or in Belle’s occasional mess. As a result Trooper is not a happy camper. He tugs, pulls, struggles to get to his “sister” but can’t. He grumbles, fidgets around, scratches on the floor and is in a general state of unhappiness. We know it’s for his own good but this information doesn’t make it any easier to force him back on the rug.
I watched him today and reflected on struggling the same way when life takes away a comfort, eliminates an ease, refuses me relaxation, strangles my serenity, tramples my tranquility. It’s not easy when our leash is shortened, when our path requires us to give up what we hold dear but wisdom teaches it is often the removal of these things that will put us in a better, healthier place.
Today I drove my wife’s car so she could use the truck to pick up a few things in Nashville. My wife’s Honda CRV is a nice vehicle but rides very low to the ground compared to my mine and it takes me a while to get used to how it handles. The steering feels odd turning much easier than my Pick-up, the brakes are more sensitive, it accelerates more quickly, and the windshield is much larger allowing the driver to see more of the road.
Seeing the road from a different vantage point isn’t always easy or comfortable. It takes time to get used to doing things a different way, listening with different ears, seeing with different eyes. However, oftentimes the journey to wisdom and peace requires us to travel away from our comfort zone.
Tonight, after grabbing a bite to eat at Cracker Barrel, my wife and I stopped to fill the car up with gas. When we pulled in we could hear loud music emanating from somewhere. At first I thought it was the gas station’s sound system but it was actually from an S.U.V. parked at the pump in front of me. The door to the vehicle was open, the woman was texting on her cellphone, while the pump was on automatic.
As I stood there I mused; “does she really think everyone needs to hear this?” Then, I remembered a time when I was in high school and pulled into a gas station, started pumping gas with my radio blaring and an “old geezer” asked me; “do we really need to hear that noise?” and it hit me, I had become the “old geezer!”
My wife and I had a good laugh about this on the way to visit a friend in the hospital. My friend is almost 90 years old, in frail health, and coming to grips with the inevitability of death.
I have been reflecting on both the gas station experience, the hospital visit and how life comes full circle. We are born to die. Our first breath of life is one breath closer to death. We are indeed but a vapor, a flower quickly fading, lush green grass that quickly withers. We are…and then we are not.blessings, bdl
“Whatever we are waiting for – peace of mind, contentment, grace, the inner awareness of simple abundance – it will surely come to us, but only when we are ready to receive it with an open and grateful heart.” Sarah Ban Breathnach
This morning I awoke early. This isn’t uncommon lately with so much to do before we move. I try not to let my thoughts get away from me when I wake before dawn in the hopes I can drift off to sleep again. Alas, this morning I could not so I got out of bed and began to get ready for an early breakfast appointment. Part of my morning routine is checking email and when I opened one today I was blindsided by grace.
The message was simple but it included an incredible gift to me and my wife. It was a profound and generous act that took an enormous burden off of our shoulders. It was both unexpected and deeply appreciated and we are very thankful!
At times we can become so focused on a task, an occurring or upcoming event that grace must come out of nowhere and jolt us out of our myopic state so we are able to see the incredible love and compassion that surrounds us.blessings, bdl
There are times in life when instability happens, an event we didn’t plan for, a choice with unexpected consequences, a season which blows winds of transition into our lives and we become blinded by the debris of change.
When we encounter these sections on the path of life it can be difficult to get our bearings and we wonder if we are wandering aimlessly. Will the way ever be clear again? Yes. Seasons come and go, the unknown soon becomes the new normal. The passing of time has a way of revealing what was once hidden.
Patience is required. A waiting for the path to reveal itself again and trusting the path maker watches over our steps.blessings, bdl
Great quote by one of the Inklings. As a person who gets into hot water frequently I often wonder if this is a result of wisdom or rebellion.
As a wannabe saint/contemplative/wise person you’d think trouble would be one of those things I avoided easily and yet I tend to find myself in tough conversations and situations. Mostly these result from asking too many questions and refusing to believing something to be true just because someone says it is…for some reason this makes people irritated and sometimes gives the impression I’m hard to get along with or have malcontent tendencies.
Maybe this is true. Maybe I enjoy rubbing people the wrong way. Maybe people need to think more and presume less? After all, hot water is the best way to cleanse ourselves of illusions and assumptions.blessings, bdl
The Master said; “One day a man found a treasure in a field. He was so happy that he went and sold everything he owned to buy that field. Another man went looking for fine pearls. When he found a very valuable pearl, he went and sold everything he had and bought it.”
To sell everything one has takes certainty in what is being purchased. To know treasure when one sees it, an object of great value amidst the dirt and grime which surrounds it, takes a trained eye. If we aren’t sure of what we’re buying we could end up with junk and costume jewelry.
On the path of life we will pass many fields and have numerous shiny objects seek our attention. Knowing what’s worth buying and what’s worthless, what is eternal and temporal, wise and foolish, goes a long way in determining whether our life is filled with treasure or trash.blessings, bdl
An excellent and thought-provoking quote.
My first reaction when reading this was to think of folks I have known to whom this quote succinctly applies. However, wisdom teaches to move past the shallow critiques of others and deeply consider if it is applicable to me.
Scary. To think we may acquire knowledge and not become wise. To spend our lives accumulating that which can enlighten our path and still live in darkness is disconcerting. How do we ensure we are not someone to whom the quote; “Men can acquire knowledge, but not wisdom. Some of the greatest fools ever known were learned men.” can be hung on our lives?
A good step is to move past our initial reactions, our first thoughts. When knowledge is given to us, do we assume it is meant for someone else? Do we allow it to penetrate or just see it as data, a piece of information to file away somewhere in our minds? Do we chew on it, as a cow continuously chomps on a clump of grass, turning it over and over, drawing out all the flavor, each bit of nutrients, letting it become a part of us?
Wisdom is not the amount of knowledge we possess but if this knowledge possesses us.blessings, bdl
Today I shared the following with my campus family as we began our last few weeks together…
Waiting can drive us crazy. Maybe this is why there is so much of it in life. These last few months have been one long season of waiting. A thought that keeps coming to my mind, “perhaps, life can be best summed up as one long lesson in patience.”
In a world where almost everything moves at such a high rate of speed, sometimes it’s difficult to catch our breath before something else dashes in to take it away. Instant gratification is no longer an option but rather a necessity. At a time where everything happens so fast, shouldn’t patience be placed on the endangered species list? It seems to be no longer a virtue and no longer needed.
However, life still requires patience and a recognition that for everything there is a season.
Jacob, the heel-catcher, has met a kindred spirit. Both men are deceivers and manipulators. Both do whatever they can to get the better of the other. It just comes naturally. Laban tricks Jacob first by marrying him to Leah before Rachel…After many years of service, Jacob finally outwits Laban and gains a more valuable flock in the process.
31 As time went on, Jacob overheard what Laban’s sons were saying about him.
Laban’s Sons: Jacob has taken everything that belonged to our father; he gained all his wealth from taking advantage of him.
2 And Jacob also noticed a change in how Laban looked at him and treated him. He seemed colder toward him than before.
Eternal One (to Jacob): 3 You must now return to the land of your ancestors and to your own family. I will be with you always.
4 So Jacob called his wives Rachel and Leah to meet him in the field where his flock was grazing.
Jacob: 5 I notice your father’s attitude toward me has changed; he doesn’t regard me with the same respect as he did before. But the God of my father has been with me….(but God has said to me) 13 “I am the God of Bethel, the place where you poured oil on a pillar and made a vow to Me.[a] Now get up, leave this land, and return to the land where you were born.”
It has been a long season of waiting for Jacob, heel grabber, one who wrestles with God.
He has waited in a foreign land for his brother to cool off after Jacob tricked him out of his inheritance. He fell in love with a beautiful woman named Rachel and waited seven years, working for his soon to be father in law only to be tricked into marrying his beloved’s older sister named Leah. He then had to work another seven years to complete the payments for both sisters.
After this Jacob grew rich and Laban grew jealous. The time was coming when he would need to move away from his father in law. As he waited, God blessed and his father in law schemed. Don’t feel sorry for Jacob, he could scheme with the best of them. Finally, after many years of service, back and forth plotting and scamming, wives, many children, trouble between the two families, and much waiting, God reveals to Jacob what he is to do.
3 Then the Lord said to Jacob, “Return to the land of your ancestors and to your kindred, and I will be with you.”
It has been many years since Jacob has been home. His life has been lived elsewhere for so long home is more a memory than reality. It’s also filled with uncertainty. What will Esau, Jacob’s deceived brother, do when they come face to face? Where will they live? Will his livestock and investments continue to grow? No certainty is given except (God promised) “Go to the land of your ancestors and I will be with you.”
Jacob gathers his family and discusses this life altering revelation.
Rachel and Leah (respond): 14 Is there any inheritance at all left for us from our father’s house? 15 He regards us as foreigners now that we’ve married you. He sold us in exchange for your years of labor, and he has been using up all of the money that should have been ours. 16 All of the property God has taken from our father and given to you actually belongs to us and to our children anyway! So do whatever God said to do.
“So do whatever God said to do.” Remember these are moms saying this, wives giving their approval. Moms aren’t usually too thrilled when dads/husbands decide to make a U-turn in midlife and do something unexpected. Moms/Wives like stability. They like knowing the kids are getting fed; a roof over their heads, the dad/husband is going to be able to provide for them. Thank God for wives/moms/families who are willing to say; “Do whatever God said to do.”
17 So Jacob got up, and he put his children and his wives on camels for the journey. 18 He rounded up all of his livestock and all of the property he had gained, … crossed the Euphrates River and set his face south toward the hill country of Gilead, he was going home.
When I came to ECN almost 7 years ago I left a ministry which faced many challenges and came to a new place, a new life at ECN as their Christian Education director. Though I had never held this position before, I was excited to do something new after being a youth mentor for many years. However, less than a year later, I was asked to visit this campus church for a few Sundays to be pulpit supply, a fill in, a substitute and I have been there ever since. I have never regretted my decision.
Even last year, when the future of our church became uncertain and my position was no longer available, I still knew this was God’s place for me. In July 2013, after being informed ECN could no longer financially support my position I began searching for another position but also applied at many bi-vocational jobs in this area in case the decision was made to keep the campus church open.
Though I have been considered for various positions in these last several months I have prayerfully sensed God’s leading not to pursue any opportunities until the outcome of our campus was determined. Then in December, following the decision to close LVCN, God’s call for me was to continue being their shepherd, through this time of uncertainty and until the last Sunday, was clear. I obeyed but was unsure what this meant for the future.
As I have considered other ministries and waited for guidance on where to go next, I prayerfully sensed I was to wait, to rest.
One position seemed it might be a good fit. We exchanged emails, phone calls, video interviews and I sensed I would fit in rather well. My last interview with their leadership team was on January 16, 2014. It went very well. As soon as I finished the interview I picked up my bible, prayed and began to read scripture.
The Bible I was reading from has a selection of chapters to be read each day followed by one verse to meditate upon. The assigned section for this day was 5 ½ chapters, over 100 verses. Out of all the possible selections the verse to meditate upon was:
Up until this point Beth and I had been discussing the sense of waiting we felt God had placed on our lives. We also reflected upon certain difficult situations I had encountered while serving here since July 2007.
In some ways we, like Jacob, have been in a period of waiting for almost 7 years. There have been times we looked for a sign to transition but were always directed back to shepherding our family at the campus church. In many ways it has been this place, these people, which kept us from moving on during some very trying times. It is a blessing being their leader.
Now this verse brought everything into focus. I understood why a spirit of rest had been laid upon my heart. That night I saved and annotated the page in my Bible (pictured above) dated it January 16, and shared it with my wife. I read her the scripture I had meditated upon following the interview and she replied; “Do what God wants you to do.” Following this I contacted the church and removed my name from consideration for the position. I realized this was not the season for “next” but of rest.
In the last several weeks, we continued to pray and counsel with mentors and friends, to confirm the direction we are to take and believe it to be our course.
Last week we traveled down to South Carolina where my folks have graciously offered to let us stay with them. So, following my final day as the pastor of these wonderful people on February 28, we will pack up all we own and, like Jacob, move to the place I call home.
The decision, like Jacob’s, is filled with uncertainty. How long this waiting will last we are not sure. How we are going to make ends meet we do not know. But, like Jacob, God has directed me back to the land of my kindred, to go home for a season of rest and he offers his assurance;
Genesis 31:3 Then the Lord said to Jacob, “Return to the land of your ancestors and to your kindred, and I will be with you.”
9 O Lord we have waited for your signs
we have searched and listened for your word,
we have waited patiently for a season.
10 O True God, how much longer?
11 When will you release us?
12 Even as we wait, you are still our True God, our King from long ago;
you bring salvation to Your people. You are faithful.
13 You are powerful and we praise you.
15 You made everything and give love and direction to those who follow you.
16 The day is Yours and also the night—
You set in place the sun, moon, and all the stars to light up our darkness.
17 You have arranged all things, control all things;
You are the Architect of our lives. You are creator of all seasons.
“Men acquire a particular quality by constantly acting a particular way… you become just by performing just actions, temperate by performing temperate actions, brave by performing brave actions.”
Aristotle –Greek critic, philosopher, physicist, & zoologist (384 BC – 322 BC)
A mark of wisdom is understanding the need to put acquired knowledge into practice. We do not become wise by more reading, vigorous discussion, being open-minded and self-examination. These qualities are certainly helpful but unless we are willing to put into practice what we have learned our study is in vain.
There is a difference between knowledge and wisdom.blessings, bdl
What happened to my hands? When did they become so wrinkly? What are these crinkles on my face? Why do I seem to have much more face and so less hair? Except, of course, on my eyebrows and ears which seem to grow hair at a phenomenal rate!
Getting older is a reality. We realize it happens and yet it still somehow takes us by surprise.
The other day I caught myself holding an item with fine print under a light, squinting, trying to read it…and I thought; “when did this happen, when did I turn into an old person?”
Time, the undefeated one.
If we can’t stop time hopefully we can make the most of the time we have left.blessings, bdl