Expecting

Some years ago a friend told me that the theme of her life was waiting.  She was waiting for the addition to her house to be completed and she was waiting for the birth of her first child.  That conversation made me think about waiting as a religious experience.

One of my favorite Bible verses is “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.  They shall rise up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not grow weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31.)  The Hebrew word translated wait means holding oneself ready for an arrival or occurrence, to be in expectation or hope of something—the kind of waiting my friend and her husband were doing.

They hadn’t seen what was to come, but they had a vision and expectation of something wonderful and were readying themselves outwardly and inwardly for the arrival.  They put up with the discomfort, chaos, dirt, and inconvenience much better because of what they were expecting than they would have if they had had no hope and no expectation.

The faithful of Israel got strength for their daily lives because their waiting on God meant they were expecting the promised activity of God on their behalf.  I’m sure there were times when they couldn’t see it happening as they fell to defeat and lost things they considered essential—homeland, power, the temple.  But their continued belief that God was involved kept them together as a people and gave them a vision to live toward.

All of us encounter hard times—physically, financially, emotionally, relationally, politically.  To wait on the Lord is to claim and to be given the strength to get through such times, because it gives us a perspective about what is happening that keeps the hard times from defeating us.  All is not meaningless and hopeless.  God is at work in our lives and in our world.  For Christians, Jesus Christ reveals and is that promise.

Queries:

When have you encountered hard times, and what has helped you get through them?

What is your experience of waiting and expecting?

Prayer:

Thank You for the promise of Your presence and for Your faithfulness through the generations.  Help me remember You in good times and bad, in the Spirit of him who knew peace even on a cross.

For further reflection:

“Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long” (Psalm 25:5).

“For in hope we were saved.  Now hope that is seen is not hope.  For who hopes for what is seen?” (See Romans 8: 22-25).

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The Presence and Action of God

A common question in spiritual direction is to wonder how God has been present and active in one’s life.  This is a challenging question because it assumes you can know, when many people doubt the very existence of God and others are quick to deny that God could have done something good for you when God didn’t do something good for someone else.

While there is no formula for how God is present and active in one’s life, and no certainty, because the divine is beyond our comprehension, there are particular kinds of experiences that draw me to make that claim and reveal the image of God that I hold.  There are times when something that happens brings life and energy and tears of joy and gratitude and deep peace.  This is easy to imagine if something good occurs, such as a successful surgery.  But it can also happen in the midst of misery when a tiny ray of light breaks through, such as when the partner left behind experiences the comforting presence or a word from the partner who died.

A sense of being accompanied; circumstances rolling out that leave one door open and then the next and the next; finding oneself in the right place at the right time, when you didn’t know from reason that things would work that way—all these touches that I have known feel like being in the flow of God’s living stream, or in the energy-field of God’s love.  The way things play out is far beyond what I might have orchestrated.  There is a different feel, physically and spiritually, and gratitude pours forth.

Finding oneself spoken to by a dream or a passage of scripture or the words of a hymn or song that simply shows up in your mind; getting a sense that something is to be and the sense grows or deepens or is affirmed by your spiritual community or companions; being awed by something you see or that happens—all point beyond us, taking us out of our ego smallness and open us to love and oneness.

I believe that God is in the midst of such experiences, and that each of us and the world around us benefit from such awareness of and attentiveness to the Holy.

Queries:

What is your image of God and how does that impact how you experience, or don’t experience, God’s presence and action?

Do you think God may be present even when you have a sense of God’s absence?

Prayer:

Look back over a period of time—a day, a week, a year—and see if you can be aware of a sense of holiness, or of having blocked such a possibility.  Listen to your heart’s song.

For further reference:

“My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast . . . for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy” (see Psalm 63).

“Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias.  The Lord said to him in a vision, ‘Ananias.’  He answered, ‘Here am I, Lord.” (See Acts 9: 1-19.)

An Interventionist God?

A loved one is seriously ill, an undocumented mother of children who have been born in the USA is threatened with deportation, color-blind racism means you have to fear for the life of your son in ways that white mothers don’t have to. In the midst of these and similar situations, can we cry out to God, or is that pointless?

A refrain among some who wrestle with religious or spiritual questions is “I don’t believe in an interventionist God.” At best, they say, we can pray for some general wellbeing, or perhaps we can pray for a specific situation so that we will be changed. It seems that to think God intervenes is to say that God healed this person but refused to cure that one, cared about this situation but didn’t care about that one. Who would want to worship such an arbitrary God! But if it is not God’s doing that one person is healed and another is not, that some migrants die in the desert or on sea and others don’t, then how does one explain such things?

I believe that God desires relationship, that our prayers are heard and answered even though we may never understand how or why. I know I am not able to manipulate God, that if the situation about which I have prayed resolves in a way that makes me happy, it is not my doing. I can be grateful and give praise, but I cannot extrapolate from that situation as to what might happen in another situation, mine or someone else’s. What I can do is stay in relationship with God. I can, even must, cry out.

In the Bible story of Job, when he is afflicted with terrible losses and ills, his friends assume he has done wrong and God is punishing him. But Job insists he has done no wrong and demands an audience with God to protest. When God comes, Job is humbled by God’s awesomeness beyond all Job’s understanding. We would like to figure out who God is and how God works, but we can only stand in the mystery.

Queries:

How do you deal with the fact that some children make it through all the terrible challenges to reach the United States and others die? That some things you pray for seem to get no response?

Human action in response to God’s call and leading is important. How do you listen for what is yours to do? When and how are you to be God’s hands and feet?

Prayer:

Take a situation that you care about. Hold it in your mind and heart and know it deeply. In your imagination, lift that situation to the heart of Jesus.

For further reflection:

“Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart” (See Luke 18: 1-8).

“The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength. Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry are fat with spoil.” (See Hannah’s prayer when she who had been barren gave birth to a child, I Samuel 2: 1-10.)

Living with Joy

Today is a beautiful, bright, sunny day. The air is crisp and cool, and the light and shadows dancing amidst the green leaves dazzle my eyes. The birds are in and out consuming the birdseed in my birdfeeder—including a brown-headed nuthatch. This day could go by, one more day in a lifetime, or it can be an opportunity for joy. I can stop and soak up the beauty of what I can see—and be in the presence of the Creator. I can take in the gift and let it run through my veins, energizing my soul and filling me with joy.

Another day I was with people who, because we felt safe in the group, dared to express their discomfort with the word faith and to ask questions. We had a wonderful conversation. It became a joyful moment of transformation. Later that day I took my car into the shop for routine maintenance. The joy came there when two service people helped me finally learn how to get spoken directions in the car to assist me in finding my destination when I travel.

Our days are often so full that what happens in the day becomes a blur and disappears into history. But to stop and look back over the day, remembering the sweet moments and the gifts that came amidst everything else, is to frame the day with joy and possibility and to give thanks and praise to the Giver of all good gifts.

My sister is a quilter. She loves to include lots of different, beautiful, and interesting fabrics. Sometimes I get to help her pick out the fabrics for the quilt. I get such pleasure out of looking at the fabrics, trying to find one that meets her needs, and then getting to let her take all the responsibility of making the selection. Later in the quilting process I help choose what fabric goes where. Each of us is being creative. When we co-create with God, joy is there.

Living with joy, when there is much that is terrible and sad, is important. It is not putting one’s head in the sand or playing pretend. It makes space and creates energy for God’s presence and action in the world. For the Christian it proclaims resurrection good news, that with God there is always hope and new life.

Queries:

What gives you joy? What helps you take time to experience joy?

What place do you see for joy in the midst of the tragic events and situations in our world?

Prayer:

“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless God’s holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all God’s benefits.” (Psalm 103: 1-2)

For further reflection:

“You set the earth on its foundations, so that it shall never be shaken. You cover it with the deep as with a garment.” (Read Psalm 104)

“A woman . . . began to bathe [Jesus’] feet with her tears. . . (See Luke 7: 36-50).