Beth went to a reunion today and when she came back she smelled. It wasn’t a bad smell but it was a scent of perfume that makes my nose itch, a lot. “Whew, I can tell where you’ve been and who you’ve been around!” I jokingly told her. She laughed and agreed. The smell was so pervasive she changed clothes so I wouldn’t scratch my nose off my face.
Scientists tell us the sense of smell is one of our most powerful. It can conjure memories, warn us of danger, alert us to life and death, repel us, attract us, make us hungry, turn our stomachs, welcome us or tell us to stay away.
The Book of Numbers, in the Hebrew Bible, chapter 15, verse 14 reads; “If an alien sojourns with you, or one who may be among you throughout your generations, and he wishes to make an offering by fire, as a soothing aroma to the LORD, just as you do so he shall do.”
A lot of talk, arguing, and choosing sides about the families and individuals coming to our national borders looking for a new home lately. They smell of desperation and hope. When they arrive I wonder what they sense about us? Do they catch the scent of kindness, love, welcoming or a scent unpleasing to them and to God? What we do, allow done, to the foreigner, the alien, the stranger, the helpless, the hopeless, among us reveals who we are and the God we serve.
I listened to a conversation this week where the person told another, to their face, that they hated them. “I hated you when you left,” they said. “It took a long time to not hate you anymore.” It was an honest and startling admission. Most times people are adept at not showing the person they hate their true feelings.
It left me with a question; “Have I ever, in my life, hated someone?” I define hate; as the inability to see the good in someone. As I reflected on the question a person came to mind. If I’ve ever hated someone, according to my definition, this man fit the criteria. I had the hardest time seeing the good, the light, the benefit of his existence, the unique expression of God in him. It was, at times, impossible to not be suspicious of his motives, think of the worst outcome of his decisions, belittle his beliefs and talents. Then, one day, ranting in my head about something he had done the question came from out of the blue; “Can you see any good in this man?” My mind stopped dead in its tracks. The answer was “no, I couldn’t.” It was then I realized the problem wasn’t him it was me.
I’d love to post about how this moment fixed everything but it didn’t. However, it did give me a new way of looking at this person and my role in the frustration, anxiety, and chaos within me. It took me a long time to forgive the hurt and betrayal he had caused but I began focusing on what was going on inside of me instead of what someone was doing on the outside. This made all the difference.
“You will never see God until you can see Him in every next face you see.” #SaintMotherTeresa
Change Myself –
The older I get the less knowledge and wisdom I think I possess. They say the beginning of wisdom and knowledge is two-fold; fearing God and knowing you know nothing. As each year passes the second part seems to get easier.
There was a time when I believed I knew much. Not just about myself but also about others. I could perceive motives both inward and outward, judge with impunity, and thought myself better and more able to live a life pleasing to God and myself than most other people. Then, I began to grow up.
The word growing brings with it a sense of serenity but growing is painful. It is bursting through old barriers, going places that are uncomfortable and unknown, daring to die in order to live, braving the challenges and elements that surround you.
With growth comes the realization you cannot force others to change. You do not have that power. You cannot stop the world from spinning out of control. You don’t have that ability. You can’t even get past your own hurts, habits, and hangups most days. You, I, am a perfect example of imperfection.
Wisdom and knowledge. They are as different as night and day but compliment each other when embraced and allowed to exist mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact, please you.”
to Know –
A story is told that one day Saint Mother Teresa was asked by a seeker how to find and see God. After a moment of thought, Sister Teresa responded; “You will find God when you can see Him in each next person you meet.” In other words, when a person realizes God indwells in his creation and the love we have for God should be reflected in all he has created.
I am reminded of this story, and wisdom lesson, when someone is getting on my nerves, bugs me just because of who they are, or seems to do everything wrong or not the way I think it should be done. “Do you see God in…?” It’s a powerful reminder that the way we see, treat and judge others is a reflection of our own heart and our relationship with God.
To know someone, to love them is to know and love God.
When I woke up this morning my positive thought was; “It’s not Thursday!” Yesterday I had to go to the dentist and while there are times we must do things which bring us anxiety we can celebrate I am thankful I didn’t have to repeat the process today.
It’s also a beautiful day. Sunny with a few clouds. Temperatures in the low to mid-80’s. In a few moments, I will go and mow the grass. Some weeks, especially during the hot summer days, it’s more a chore than a joy but as the days grow shorter I will bask in the sun on my face and driving my little yard tractor.
One thought or several, can indeed change the way you see your day. I know in the future I’ll have to go to the dentist again. Soon there will be no need to cut the grass. By the look of the trees and their colors, the days will quickly be cold enough that even the sun won’t be able to warm me up.
One of the most positive thoughts, disciplines, we can have is focusing on the good each day brings and not the uncomfortable change which may come with tomorrow.
“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”
Gospel of Saint Matthew 6:34, The Master
An elder monk was visiting a friend in the big city. They were walking down a street filled with people, vehicles, construction and a cacophony of noise surrounded them. As they were talking the elder monk paused and said; “I hear a cricket.” His friend raised an eyebrow as the monk went over to a section of the concrete sidewalk which had been carved out and filled with dirt and a small tree. Sure enough, after looking for a moment, he pointed out the chirping insect.
His friend was amazed! “How did you hear the cricket amidst all this noise?” The elder monk smiled and replied; “You hear what you are listening for.” The friend, still astonished, shook his head. “Do you have a coin?” his monk friend asked. “Here,” said the friend as he gave it to him. “Now, watch.” the monk ordered. The elder flipped the coin in the air and let it land on the ground making a tinkling noise. Several people stopped and began looking. “Do you understand?” asked the elder monk with a smile.
One of my favorite wisdom parables. It is a reminder that our lives are about listening to the truthful, just and grace filled voices and sounds in this world. Too often we allow the negative noise into our lives which drowns out the voices of God, nature and the sound of the spirit of each other.
My first inclination that something was happening on the road ahead was the car in front of me slamming on the brakes. I took my foot off the gas pedal and began looking around. Then, from the side of the road, a small, baby deer came running into my lane. It was unsteady and scared. I hit the brakes as it continued in a head on collision with my truck. At the last moment, it wobbled into the other lane almost getting hit by another car, crossed quickly again in front of me and then bounded on the side of the road. It tried to go further but there was a cow fence and he couldn’t find a gap. Watching I wondered if its mom leapt over the fence but the little deer’s legs just weren’t strong enough. It bounded out of sight looking for a hole in the fence. I continued on to church but on the way back I looked warily for its body on the road, hit by an unaware motorist. To my relief, there was no body or sign of it anywhere. I hope it found the place in the fence it was looking for or an adult deer showed it the way.
The baby deer was small and fragile, desperately looking for where it belonged. It knew the middle of the road was not the way.
I wonder if we are like this to God? Tiny, brittle souls in bodies easily broken. We try to find our way in life, looking for the hole, the gap, the answer, the way to the peace we desperately crave. Perhaps we are more like a brutish, boar recklessly, disastrously, making our way not caring what we break or who we hurt. Maybe we’re somewhere in the middle.
Either way, what we need, is someone to show us the way home.
I had a friend who used to tell me she felt guilty for falling asleep when praying her nightly prayers. “God must be so disappointed in me! I can’t even stay awake to say goodnight to him.” I knew her heart was full of love and a desire to please God. I listened and then I asked her a question; “What do you think God would like more? To hear you say; ‘Goodnight.’ or for you to fall asleep in his arms?'” She smiled and understood that oftentimes we make our relationship with God more complicated than it should be.
The contemplative way tells us that when we are chopping wood, it is with God. When we eat a meal, it is with God. When sitting quietly, it is with God. All things we do can be with an awareness that God isn’t impressed with our showmanship, rules and regulations, dogma and definitions. God longs for us to realize where we are; he is and our awareness of his presence, our understanding he desires to be with us is the meeting of every need we have now and forever.
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.
This morning our organization had a Father/Child reading event at the local library. It was a good time, a great turnout and we were able to meet dads we’ve never met before and some we hadn’t seen in a while.
We try to make these events as entertaining as possible with crafts, a puppet show, brunch items and more. The entire focus of the event is to stress the importance of fathers reading to their children. We talk about why this is important for the child and the parents and give the dads some alternative ideas to reading a book that also helps build a child’s’ vocabulary.
My favorite part of the event, however, isn’t the puppets or craft time but when the dads and kids go pick out a book and read it together. It’s the image of the child sitting next to the dad or in his lap and he’s whispering in their ear any words they may not know, need help enunciating, or pointing out interesting items in the pictures on the page.
For me, it is the picture of how God wants to treat his children. Life is difficult and demanding. There’s always something to do and the busyness of this world keeps us spinning. Wisdom tells us that silence, simplicity, humility and obedience are our ways of crawling into our Father’s laps, sliding up next to him, feeling him wrap an arm around us and whisper in our ears, our spirits, letting us know that though the story of our lives can be complicated and convoluted, he’s present and close as the tale of our existence unfolds.
This morning, during worship, Beth and I sat behind a couple who had an older son with Down’s Syndrome. (http://www.ndss.org/Down-Syndrome/What-Is-Down-Syndrome/) He sang the songs, clapped, laughed uproariously, and became so excited a few times his mom would whisper in his ear to settle him down.
Beth and I have worked with people with Down’s Syndrome before so he wasn’t bothering us. In fact, just the opposite, he enhanced my worship with his full commitment to what was happening around him. No worries about what others thought about what he was doing or about him.
Native Americans are said to have thought children with Down’s Syndrome had an insight to God because of their innocence. I always think about that when I am near or interacting with someone with Down’s Syndrome. From my work with them, I know they are not always so “innocent.” They can be mischievous, angry, playful, stubborn and emote with the best drama kings and queens. However, what they don’t do as often is hide what they’re feeling. Their good and not so good behavior, joys and frustrations, happy-go-lucky attitudes and refusal to do something they aren’t in the mood to do can be fulfilling or draining for their caretakers.
Their innocence is not ever doing anything wrong but rather their refusal to hide, be ashamed, be less than what they are no matter who’s watching. They aren’t governed by their need to impress or be thought well of by anyone
In that sense, they are not only innocent but also role models for the rest of us.
This morning, I went into a store and was met with a booming voice coming over the store’s speakers. “Would the Grandmother of Jason please come to the registers? Would the Grandmother of Jason please come to the registers?” My first thought was a woman who had become enamored with her shopping list and had let her grandchild wander off. An elderly person passed me, approached the registers and the grandson hurriedly went up to her and declared; “I didn’t know where you were! I was looking for you!” When the child began to speak I could tell he had a learning disability and the grandmother, instead of being embarrassed or frustrated, told him calmly; “I was over there. I knew where you were.” She continued talking to him and they began walking through the store together. I smiled at the gentleness of the grandmother. She obviously was familiar with these situations and knew what to do to help the young man feel safe, to know she was near, he hadn’t been forgotten.
Reflecting on this sweet moment I wondered if this is how God sees, understands us. There are events we consider traumatic and chaotic. We panic and question; “God where are you? Have you forgotten us? Have you left us in the middle of this mess with no way to find you?”
God, on the other hand, is right there, with us. We may not see him but we’ve never been out of his sight. In his way, in his timing, he steps into view and we run, relieved and cling to him telling him how worried and alone we felt. He smiles, puts his arm around us, his voice and presence soothing our soul and we walk together along life’s path.
What are We? –
This morning I walked into a sanctuary, on this 4th of July weekend, with this shirt staring me in the face. On the back of it was written the Declaration of Independence (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Declaration_of_Independence). I found it odd to be wearing this shirt in church but understand that being a Christian and an American go hand in hand for a large number of people. I often wonder which one folks would choose if the choice was forced upon them.
I focused my attention on the words being sung, the scripture being read, the prayers being recited. The final hymn we sang was one I had never heard before but the lyrics moved my spirit. It was entitled; “Lord of all nations, Grant me Grace.”
1 Lord of all nations, grant me grace To love all men of every race And in each fellow-man to see My brother, loved, redeemed by thee.
2 Break down the wall that would divide Thy children, Lord, on every side. Let me seek my neighbor’s good In bonds of Christian brotherhood.
3 Forgive me, Lord, where I have erred By loveless act and thoughtless word. Make me to see the wrong I do Will crucify my Lord anew.
4 Give me thy courage, Lord, to speak Whenever strong oppress the weak. Should I myself the victim be, Help me forgive, remembering thee.
As we lifted up this song my attention was once again drawn to the man wearing the Declaration of Independence shirt. It seems our country is run by two things; hate for those who disagree with us and fear of those different from us.
The song asks the “Lord of all nations” to allow us a heart big enough to love all people, to see them as our brothers and sisters. At a time where many are wanting walls built this song asks God to break down the wall that would force God’s children to choose sides. It challenges us to reach out to our neighbor regardless of race, color, creed or political preference. If we fail to do this we are to ask forgiveness for acts and words that do not espouse “God’s love.” We are also challenged to have courage when we are oppressed or when we find ourselves on the side of the oppressors, asking forgiveness and speaking God’s truth to power.
I wonder how many would wear a shirt with the words to this hymn imprinted on them as the man wore his shirt today. I also reflected on our nation, its claimed Christian heritage, and how we have lost our way.
Brian Loging (Twitter)
I’m a low maintenance person when it comes to breakfast and lunch.
For breakfast; a cereal bar or a pop-tart and a cup of coffee and I am good to go. For lunch; a sandwich that has either tuna fish or a slice of bologna or ham. Beth buys fancy-schmancy meat for her sandwiches but she knows to get me inexpensive, store-brand, square, sliced ham. This afternoon I took some ham, two slices of bread, slapped on a little mayo and it hit the spot on many levels.
When I was growing up my family would go camping regularly in the Great Smoky Mountains. We grew up hiking on the Appalachian trail, swimming in mountain streams, sleeping in canvas tents and eating lunches out of a cooler sitting at a wooden picnic table in some of the most beautiful places on Earth.
When I eat my ham sandwich I think about these simpler times. My mind and spirit go back to not having many cares, being surrounded by family and friends, fully immersed in nature and God’s creation. Being older now I realize my parents still had bills to pay, work pressures, the difficult job of raising me and my brother, but my memories of these times are only good, warm and full of love.
These seasons of life are never to be repeated but I can eat my ham sandwich and remember the best of life is found in the simple things.
The lawn caretakers for the church next door came early this morning, before 7AM. Luckily I was already up and taking the dog outside for his morning routine. As I stood there, in my bathrobe, I heard a noise over the sound of the zero turn lawn mowers. At first I couldn’t make it out but as I focused on the sound it became clear someone was singing. It was one of the men on the mowers. He had headphones on and whatever song was playing he was singing along with it. I began to smile. He hadn’t seen me and continued for a while bellowing at the top of is lungs. Before long he noticed me, quieted down until me and the dog went inside.For a lawn jockey he was a decent singer. He didn’t need to be any more talented than what he was because his purpose was to mow grass, take care of lawns, not entertain folks with his musical abilities.
The incident reminded me of a professor I had in college. I asked him one day; “How can we, who are so frail, weak, selfish, short-sighted and sinful, so human, ever please a God who is so good?” He smiled and took a pen from his shirt pocket and pointed out the scratches, dings and dents, faded color of the imitated gold casing and asked me; “What is the purpose of this pen? Is it to look good? Impress by its shine? Cause awe to all who behold it? Or, is it to write when pressed on to a piece of paper?” “To write.” I said. “Then it is a perfect pen because it fulfills its purpose. As long as it writes, its perfect no matter what it looks on the outside. In the same way our purpose is to love and be loved by God. Oftentimes we aren’t much to look at but if we desire to love and be loved by our Heavenly Father we are fulfilling our purpose and His love is what makes us perfect.”
He was a wise man.
This morning an elderly man chose the pew in front of me for the worship service. His choice of place was based on it being near one of the large wooden decorative beams located in the sanctuary. He had great difficulty sitting and standing so he used the beam
to steady himself. The church building itself was supporting him. When it came time to go to the front of the sanctuary to receive communion he slowly raised himself and made his way forward. The older gentleman couldn’t bend his knees at the railing as the priest served the body and the blood so the priest reached out to him to make sure he was served, included.
As I watched and reflected on the scene it was a beautiful reminder of what the community of faith should be, what we’re called to do. There are hurt, broken, scarred people who we encounter both inside and outside the church. We aren’t called to heal them, only God can do that. Our purpose is to include, support, serve and love them in every way possible.
Some things simply don’t go together. Tea without sugar, the beach and rain, the DMV and expediency, mowing grass in a sweatshirt, coat and wearing earmuffs. Yet, the latter is exactly what I did today.
This last week we’ve had a lot of rain and even though it’s October the grass is still growing. I was hoping to mow on Thursday and Friday but the ground was too wet. This morning I decided to take the chance and cut the yard. I put on a pair of shorts and a T-shirt, walked outside and immediately came back in. It was more than chilly, it was cold made even worse by a stiff wind. So, I bundled up, went out, hopped on the mower and completed the chore.
Other events happened this week that shouldn’t go together either. Schools and guns, young people and death. I can’t imagine the terror and trauma in that classroom in Oregon as those students, teachers, faculty realized what was occurring. My mind reels and heart breaks to think of the final moments and last breaths of the victims and the shooter.
The questions; “Where was God? Why didn’t he stop it? How could he allow such a horrible incident?” are valid and need to be asked. More things which don’t seem to go together; a good, loving, powerful God and senseless acts of violence. Unfortunately we live in a world where they do.
I’ve heard most of the arguments which attempt to answer the divine dilemma tragedies such as the school shooting in Oregon bring. Few of them pass the scrutiny of logic and theology, none of them ease the pain of loss and despair.
In times and seasons such as these two additional things which don’t seem to go together but often do; faith and doubt. The journey of wisdom is not toward absolute certainty. It is learning how faith and doubt, conviction and confusion, comfort and questioning, presence and apparent absence are held together in our spirits without separating us from a God we’ll never fully understand.
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