One Sunday morning a few weeks ago, I picked up Fred Buechner’s book, “Listen to your life.” The title jerked me awake. What does it mean – listen to your life? What would I hear, if I actually stopped and listened? The question stayed with me all day.
I went to church as I do every Sunday. As a member of the choir, I sang a bouncy African song. “Lift your voices to God with singing! Praise the Lord with a joyful song!” Smiles broke out in the congregation. Their applause was enthusiastic. As part of the choir, I had brought a moment of joy to a group of people. I liked that. Listening to my life is fun, I thought.
After the service, I talked with friends, young and old. They were concerned about the back pain I have been experiencing. Once again, I listened to my life and heard about the importance of relationships and caring. That felt good, too.
Sunday evening, along with two friends, I attended a fundraiser for “A Place Called Home”, Lindsay’s shelter for the homeless. Yes, I thought, I’m glad I want to care for others.
On that one day, I listened to my life and liked what I heard. That isn’t always the case. There are days when I hear only my mistakes, my disappointments. Sometimes I hear anger or judgment or apathy. Often I am so busy, I don’t know what I have said or thought or done. I don’t know what needs to be changed, who needs to be cared for, or what I can celebrate.
As a Christian I believe that God loves each human being in this world. I believe God is present with us every moment of our lives. When we pay attention to each moment, stop and think about our day, listen for God, we can hear and know God’s presence, God’s purpose, God’s love. Listen carefully and you will hear the Spirit working in your life.
Jesus said, “I am with you always, even onto the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
The news is filled with the disaster in Haiti. Pictures of thousands of collapsed homes, dead bodies, and wounded and broken people flash across our television and computer screens. Misery, grief, fear, desolation shout at us from the eyes and voices of the Haitian people.
At the same time, we are witnessing a miracle. The world is not ignoring Haiti. We are responding. The world’s compassion and action is amazing. In Canada, we are opening our wallets and giving generously. We’re giving clothing, tools, medicine, bandages, whatever is needed. We’re offering our time and talents. We want to help. . From within us, God’s love has been set free.
Just as I was beginning to think that the world was being taken over by evil, our news has shown me an outpouring of goodness that is overwhelming. Children, teens and adults are doing everything they can to help. Gone is the apathy that plagues our society. Gone is the greed and the need for security. In this time of economic downturn, even our government has designated millions for Haiti. Our armed forces, already stretched to the limit of their resources by the war in Afghanistan, has sent troops, trained to bring order in the chaos. Many who seldom pray, are praying. God’s goodness has risen up within us. We have set aside our concerns of race and our desire to judge. For at least this little while, we are living the words of St. Paul, “If one suffers we all suffer…” (1Corinthians 12:26). As human beings we are being the best we can be.
I believe that our response to this crisis in a small island nation, is giving us a glimpse of the love we will find in heaven and I am truly grateful.
“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror, then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part, then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain, faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.” (ICorinthians 13: 12-13)
We’ve been to the manger. We’ve brought gifts. The party is over. The regular routine and/or chaos of our daily lives has begun again. Today, as I write this reflection, my eyes rest on our nativity scene still sitting on a table in the corner of our living room. The stable, made by my daughter and her husband the first Christmas after they were married, looks dejected. . It’s been nineteen years and the grass roof is ragged. The inexpensive olive wood figures, special only because I brought them home from Israel, are lifeless and hard to see. Several weeks ago, when I set up the scene, the only old fashioned Christmas light bulb I could find, was a dim blue. Thus, the scene is in darkness except for a wavering blue light shining above the baby Jesus.
Our beautiful Christmas tree, it’s hundreds of tiny lights still sparkling triumphantly, casts a shadow on the quiet humble manger. For a moment my mind is caught by the humility and darkness of the crèche and the magnificent brightness of the tree. The difference, of course, is the number of lights.
I am reminded that Jesus, as God with us, was one man, one light. His task was to bring the light of God’s love to one, twelve, twenty, maybe even a thousand souls. Since his birth, men and women have received his teaching, his healing, his forgiveness, his love and been called to pass it on to others. Each time love is offered, a new light shines in the darkness. Already there are millions of love lights shining around the world. Today, I have a vision of world so full of light, that the darkness of greed, hatred, war, poverty is gone. That is the Christian hope, and I believe the hope of all religions.
I want to be a light for at least one person every day in 2010. I want to carry God’s torch of love even on the days I feel cranky, exhausted, hurt, defeated. The Wise Men came to Bethlehem and brought their gifts just as we do every year. They listened to God and returned home a different way. My prayer for 2010 is that all of us, religious and non religious, strike out on a new path committed to love, understanding and acceptance. Let’s see how much light we can give the world this year.
In North America we are in the midst of preparing for Christmas. The stores have put up their decorations, and stocked their shelves. The frantic shopping and endless parties have begun. At a meeting this week, I heard a pastor say, “I’d like to do away with Christmas. It’s ruined.”
Many Christians lament what has happened to our wonderful Christmas celebration. Complaining doesn’t bring change. I remind you that Jesus is born not once a year but everyday with the birth of every child. We can close our hearts and minds to our society’s commercialized Christmas but we cannot stop the birth of Christ..
To regain our religious celebration we need to begin with ourselves. As you do your Christmas baking, ask for God’s blessing on the people who will be enjoying it. With each spoonful of cookie dough onto the pan, name and give thanks for your family and friends. Stir prayers for peace into your Christmas pudding.
Listen for God message to you in the Christmas Carols, the jingling of the Salvation Army bells, the excited voices of children, the tears of a grieving friend.
Search for places to share your many blessings. Give gifts of time at nursing homes, with kids activities, visiting the lonely. Remember that Jesus enjoyed a party. He’ll be present with you as you celebrate. Light the advent candles of hope, peace, joy and love for everyone you meet.
In your mind keep a running conversation with the baby Jesus. “Is this what you would have me give to my child…my spouse…my friend…a stranger? On December 25th read the Christmas story. You are the Wisemen searching for the Christ child. You have given him his gifts..
Remember, Jesus will be born. We need only open our hearts to receive him.
Selling my books, “Spectacular Stella” and “Can I Hold Him?” has given me a new perspective on the attitude towards faith of many in today’s society. I sit at a bookstore or a craft show and watch people as they walk by. Some, have been browing at each table as they come along. When they get to mine, where the Christmas poster, the nativity scene and the shining star on the front of “Can I Hold Him, all say clearly that these books are about God, they turn their eyes away and walk by quickly. Others have the courage to pick up my books and leaf through them. As soon as their eyes light on the word God, they carefully close the book and set it down as if … I’m not sure. I know that many who have had no connection with religion or faith, except for what they read or hear in the news media, are afraid. That’s it. They’re afraid that somehow they’ll be contaminated. Yet, these same people see books loaded with violence, and descriptions of evil beings causing havoc and they willingly reach out to buy. What is it about faith that frightens people?
I wonder if they are afraid that touching, reading, learning about faith will mean changes in their lives. They don’t believe that God exists. They don’t believe in any of that hocus pocus about religion, but still they are afraid. And well they should be. My experience has taught me one sure thing about God. If I give God an inch, God will change my life. For me, those changes have been wonderful. As my faith has grown more and more solid my security and inner peace has blossomed. My participation in a church family has given me friendship and support. Yes, life is different since I risked being contaminated by religion. I know that whatever happens I am never alone. I can draw on God’s strength to face my troubles, and God’s wisdom in making decisions. I am not alone and I am grateful. Yes, one day long ago, I gave God an inch, and God has given me abundant life.
Today we went to a funeral and I met a young man I hadn’t seen for fifteen years. I received a wonderful blessing from God when I heard about his new life. We had walked together with his grief, and today he has joy. Once again he thanked me for my help in the past. Once again I experienced the privilege and honor of being part of another persons pain and joy. God’s call to me to serve through loving my neighbour was amazing. Saying yes, has filled my cup to overflowing. I am truly blessed.
Yesterday’s Bible was titled Jesus Calls the First Disciple (Mark 1:16-20). Even as a teenager this simple well known passage always presented problems for me. After all, what self-respecting fisherman would just drop his nets, give up his livelihood and take a chance on an unknown itinerant preacher. With some research and some thinking, I began to see this scene with new eyes. First of all, Simon, Andrew, James and John were probably Jesus’ contemporaries and maybe even his friends. Chances are they had heard Jesus preach often. Together they may have laid plans for travelling together. Often when we read the Bible, or any news story, we get the end result of a long process. Probably the hardest part of leaving to follow Jesus, would be accepting this Jesus whom they had known for a long time, as their leader.
In the church we use this passage to talk about following Jesus today. Can we answer God’s call? What is God calling us to do? Most of us tend to clutch tightly the net of our lives as they are. Our fingers are entwined the nets webbing and we struggle with letting go.
I remember my call to write, publish books and tell stories. First, God pushed me to tell stories as a break from the regular sermons I was preaching each week. Then my congregations pushed me to gather my stories together for publication. I thought about that and prayed about it for several years. Finally, I took half a step, let go of the net with one hand, and accepted a part time position so I would have more time to write. Five years later I was ready to let go both hands and move into this new ministry of writing. For some of us it takes many years of hearing God’s call before we finally relinguish our hold on our lives and say yes to God. When the yes finally comes, suddenly it feels as if we have literally just dropped our nets to follow Jesus. It is only then that this scripture passage makes sense. Although the process was long, interesting, and often challenging, the final yes just blends it all together. In many ways we feel as if God called and we dropped our lives and followed.
This morning I read Deuteronomy 6:1-12. It reminded me to remain focused on God, in all that I do and think. Love God, your God, with your whole heart: love God with all that’s in you, love God with all you’ve got. That sounds so simple, and yet it is profoundly difficult. Like everyone else I get focused on what I am doing or worrying about and I leave God behind. With something as simple as preparing a meal, or walking the dog, we can forget God.
Every morning for several years I read from a book titled “Simple Abundance”. One of the best meditations spoke of preparing your family’s meal as an act of worship. This is what I gleaned from that reading. As I peel the potatoes, I need to ask God to peel from my being all the mistakes I have made this day, all the times I have lost my patience, been cross, wished I were somewhere else. My prayer is, “As these potatoes cook, God, cook your love into me that I might be tasty nourishment for my family and friends. With each item I prepare for tonight’s dinner Lord, I offer you a prayer for someone I love deeply.” Preparing a meal can be an act of love for God and for others if I want it to be. It requires God’s help, God’s reminder.
Living with my focus on God, requires intentionality, at least at first. Like everything else, we get better at it with practice. One thing I have learned over the years is that remembering God in all I think and do brings God’s peace into my life.
When I first started this blog I planned to write a daily reflection on scripture or some other thought or event. So today, I am stepping onward to that purpose. This morning I focused on Psalm 16. It is a Psalm of celebrating life with God. Today, these two lines stood out for me.
“You show me the path of life.
In your presence there is joy.”
Lately I have been feeling overwhelmed. I see all the stuff I want to do – write, sell my books, enjoy my family and husband, play with my friends, support anyone I know who is hurting, care for myself physically and mentally…the list is endless. So this morning I prayed, “You show me, God, you show me what you want for my life. Lay out my days.” or as this Psalm says, “You show me the path of life, God. In your presence there is joy.”
Jesus said,”I am the way…follow me…and I will give you rest.” What was Jesus’ pattern? What is Jesus’ way? Immediately into my mind comes, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbour as yourself.” Jesus clearly said that all people were our neighbours, not just the people like us. And so I say to myself this morning, I will love and care for all people, one at a time as I encounter them. I will love my wonderful grandchildren and the ‘brat’ at the library, church, school…who won’t sit still, won’t listen, continually pokes and pushes the other children. I will love the teen I see volunteering at the hospital and the teen that throws stones at the streetlight just to hear the glass break. I will love my long time neighbour and the Moslem stranger the world has taught me to fear. In doing this I will become aware of God’s presence and experience joy, not happiness necessarily but joy. Joy because for a few moments I will have let go of myself, my fear, my judgment, my anger and I will have rested with God.
These are the thoughts I wrote this morning as part of my daily prayer time. I offer them to any who wish to read.
Home is wonderful. Framed by my dining room window are vivid splashes of gold waving in the wind against the glistening black tree trunks. The rain has made everything more vivid. God’s amazing creation is magnificent. Each morning Tom and I give thanks to God for the privilege of living in this place.