Opportunity

16 Jun

“So Pilate sentenced Jesus to die…as they led him away, a man named Simon, who was from Cyrene, happened to be coming in from the countryside. The soldiers seized him and put the cross on his shoulders and made him carry it…” (Luke 23) He didn’t know what was to happen that day. And neither do we. Simon was forced to carry the burden by power and threat. We are willing to carry our neighbor’s burden because of compassion, the sacrifice of self for the welfare of the other. Today may be my day…your day. May I be aware of others around me and available to the opportunity to share someone’s heavy load. May my eyes be open and my heart be softened by the Spirit. May I live what I say I believe.

8 Jun

I heard a phrase the other day that will stick with me for a long time. Only two words, I don’t remember the topic of conversation but I remember being caught off guard by what sounded to me like a genuine contradiction. The two words simply don’t go together.

Intense simplicity.

And hearing those words, I thought to myself: what a perfect description of the breathtaking beauty of our little corner of creation, here in the Sonoran Desert. The simple beauty is so intense at times that it is overwhelming, one step short of sacred. I complain about the summer heat, the scarcity of water in the future, the sameness of colors and landscape. But give me one good sunset or one beautiful sunrise and my spirit sings about the intense simplicity of this amazing place.

Perhaps The Way of Jesus could be called intense simplicity. I think I hear that in his voice and from his perspective on human life. The complexities we create finally cave in under the weight of excesses. Why don’t we decide, as the people of Jesus, to live intense simplicity. Creation needs it, and so do we.

My New Neighbor

29 May

Meet my new friend. I don’t know his name…he wouldn’t tell me. But he’s new to the neighborhood and he stopped by the other day to say “Hello”. Nice neighborly thing to do.

I was walking through the Living Room when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw him peering through the rectangular window above the front door. I think he must be new to this world because he wasn’t frightened and he sat there for a long time listening to me tell him about the neighborhood. I think I might have been the first human he had ever seen because he stared at me for five minutes. Wouldn’t it be amazing to hear what his little bird brain was registering at that moment? I was just explaining some of the HOA rules to him when he suddenly stood up taller at the sound of rapid chirping behind him. He turned and off he fluttered, summoned by a worried Mom who had just counted heads and discovered she was missing one.

His visit reminded me about the importance, maybe necessity, of hospitality, an important ingredient in the recipe of Christian faith. The one whose Way we follow made it very clear. Welcome the stranger, give without asking for anything in return, help people (even if you don’t know them), share your bread with anyone who is hungry. Over and over, He made the point that servant relationships are the best kind, and that if we all practiced that kind of relationship, the world would be a different place.

So, as the late Fred Rogers used to sing: “It’s a lovely day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day in the neighborhood…won’t you be my neighbor?”

Have a wonderful day today, neighbor!

If These Walls Could Speak 4

26 May

What is real? And how do I know?
Is life just one big magic show?
Find the pea under the walnut shell.
Watch closely, my friend, for your eyes will tell
exactly which one covers the prize.
Trust your instincts, they never lie.

When I picked up this photograph from the developer, the woman
behind the counter looked at it for a moment and then commented:
“That sky is really beautiful.” She was pointing toward the blue water.
I said, “Well, that’s the water you’re looking at.” And she came back:
“No it isn’t. That’s sky.” I started to say: “Lady, I was there,” but
I thought better of it.

Is it a blatant understatement to say that life is confusing,
even complicated? Life turns on a dime. Just when you think you’ve
got it figured out, off it goes in a different direction. And especially
in these days of recovery from political chaos and medical
nightmares, it’s tough to know what to do.

I heard something this morning that helps me in the midst of
confusion. May I share it with you?
“Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer.
You shall cry for help and he will answer: Here I am.
The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your
needs in parched places…you will be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up
foundations of many generations.
You shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.” (Isaiah 58:9-12)

The repairer of the breach.
The reconciler of divisions.
The restorer of stability.

Yours first…and then for everyone else around you.
May it be so.

If These Walls Could Speak 3

23 May
The third in a series of hanging art in my home.
If These Walls Could Speak….and they do.

Messages from the painting:

*The simple painting, “Country Road” by B. Herd, is one of my visual connections with Home. Home. What a nice word. What a profound word for just being four letters. I guess little things really can pack a big punch. Next time you sit down for a quiet moment, go back home in your mind. Be grateful for roots.

*Maybe you’ve walked gravel roads like this one. I find it very inviting, and very peaceful. I can hear the gravel crunch and I can feel the earth beneath my feet. But what this road says to me is…let’s go. It’s an invitation to journey, in a sense an invitation to live life as a pilgrim. Spiritually, we are people of The Way. We are sails, not anchors, and the Wind moves the ship.

*If you are a walker, you know the value of shade on a hot, humid afternoon. Perhaps it would be a good idea to pause for a few moments in the shade of that old Oak Tree in front of us. What a lovely tree. Oaks are known for their strength…great place for a Tree House, strong limbs. I’m thankful this morning for the human Oaks in my life, the strong influences in my past and the Oaks right now who model the best in human beings. A blessing.

*I could go on, but the point I want to make is that this fine painting is a spiritual statement. Home, the journey, strength, the earth, peace…it’s filled with the essential ingredients of faith and life. If these walls could speak…they do.
By the way, what do you hear from your walls?

If These Walls Could Speak 2

19 May

Going In Circles

Sometimes I feel like I meet myself coming and going, that life is much more circular than straight line. Maybe that’s the way it is for you, too. Well, I’ve got good news for both of us.

The strange looking circular object above is called a Labyrinth, which, according to The Labyrinth Society, is “a meandering path…leading to a center” of the design. Labyrinths date back 4,000 years or more and have been used as pathways for walking meditation. You begin at the obvious entryway and follow the narrow pathway, slowly and meditatively, until you reach the center, and the center might be, symbolically, the center of one’s self, the center of reality, the deepest part of experience where clarity and awareness are sharpest. It is basically a prayer walk, a pondering walk, that is particular for each individual. As a matter of fact, many churches have labyrinths available for community use even today.

The point is this. Most of us need times of introspection, or the deepening of our self-knowing, not to mention the need to come closer to the Creator, the Holy One, God. We are beginning to see a glimmer of recovery from the Covid 19 pandemic in many communities. It has been a very hard year for so many people, and a tragically sad year for those who have suffered directly because of the virus. We have questions, perhaps even doubts, that need to be pondered thoughtfully. I assure you that the Labyrinth’s invitation is valid today and anyone who walks this pathway with reverent determination will begin to sense the possibility of spiritual healing and spiritual growth.

One last thought. Many people have told me that when they began the walk through a Labyrinth, when they took the first steps through the entryway, they carried heavy baggage of emotional and spiritual stress, but that by the time they reached the center, the load felt lighter. There’s nothing magical about it. Along the way, maybe in the first few walks or in the 100th, you might just discover the answer, the remedy, the solution, the hope, the insight you have sought. Perhaps you will meet yourself. Perhaps the very center of your spiritual longing. I wish you good walking.

P.S. The Labyrinth above is a miniature of a full-sized Labyrinth. You could use a small pointed object, like a pencil point, and follow the pattern to the center. Or, you might check around the community for a full-sized Labyrinth and get the benefit of some good exercise while you meditate. Try tracing the pattern above to see how the design works. I hope it becomes an important part of your spiritual growth.

If These Walls Could Speak

17 May

Note to Self: Explain to blog viewers that the photo above and ones to follow are framed pieces of art hanging on my walls at home, that I will acknowledge the artist if I know who that is, and that the focus is on the art itself…not the shadows, reflections, or positioning of the framed piece. I haven’t figured out how to take a photo through glass. End of note to self.

Good Advice

Each of the words in this print is a sermon in itself. All are important aspects of a balanced life, and each contributes to personal spiritual growth. Think about each of them in reference to your own life.

But my focus falls on the first two words: “Take Time…” I hope we hear that suggestion literally. In the twenty-four hours allotted to each of us, we have to use time with family, work, hobbies, and all the unexpected, last-minute stuff that comes along. Sometimes that doesn’t leave much on the clock. All the more reason to “Take Time.” Another way of saying it is: “Make Time”, because time doesn’t regulate or apply itself to all my plans and schedules. I have to “take it” with intention and careful thought. Back to the words above: if I want to Read or Pray or Worship, I must “Take” time for each. I guess some people would call this scheduling, but I like to think of it as thoughtful use of this great gift called life. Time lost doesn’t return. Maturing in spirit involves lots of things, but one crucial dimension of spiritual growth is the wise stewardship of my one, single life. Take time. It is waiting to be used thoughtfully and with intention. And with gratitude.

The Transformation of Charlie

10 May

Everybody deserves a second chance,
maybe even more. My friend Charlie never
imagined he would ever snuggle on a soft
mat in front of a warm fireplace. Just wasn’t
in the cards, at least not in the ones dealt to him.
His early months were not easy…foster homes and
disappointments. Really tough to feel unwanted.
But one day, maybe when things were really looking
bleak, along came two people who saw something
in Charlie that no one else had noticed. Possibility.
Rough around the edges, yes. But possibility.

The key was to allow Charlie to be who he is,
a playful child, an explosion of energy, but
to help him, over time, become who he
can be, a trusted and appreciated friend.
Not a particularly easy project now, but well
worth the effort. Possibility has a way of
becoming reality. It’s called being given
a chance to grow up, to grow up into
the fine adult he will become one day,
a transformation built on consistent caring,
time invested, applause and instruction,
not giving up and not giving in,
respect and realistic expectation.

We know, don’t we, that not all the
Charlies in our communities
have four legs? Don’t we?

What is real? How do I know?

8 May

When I first saw this remarkable place, I thought to myself: what is real and what is reflection? Sometimes it’s difficult to distinguish between the two. And that’s why, for me, it’s important to remember the word: discernment. I sat on the river’s edge for several minutes before the two dimensions separated and it became clear which was still water and which was the real tree. Discerning means no taking part in quick, snap decisions. No major life choices without the pondering. And discernment is a spiritual practice, also. Sitting on the river bank wasn’t such a big deal. It was lovely and emotionally moving, but of no particular life value. I thought of the moment as a gift. Maybe it would be wise to have this same attitude…the moment is a gift. And for the gift, we say thank you and we treat each major decision in our lives as a spiritual quest for truth which guides us toward an answer or solution consistent with our Christian faith.

Enjoy the surprises when they pop into your life. But when the major decisions come along, take time to listen to both your heart and your mind. Don’t hurry. Sit with the Spirit. Discern.

Art Revealed

7 May

This didn’t happen yesterday.
Over many centuries, time and the living
planet produced splendid art. I am
thankful for wind and rain and all the
other features of the environment that have
worked together to reveal this
breathtaking wonder.
When the soil is stripped away,
this is the result. The very stones of
the earth demonstrate the glory of creation.
When the soil is removed, the foundational
structure of our planet home is made
visible. To those who have eyes to see
beyond mere rocks to magnificent
reality, the only possible utterance is
Thank You!