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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Waiting in Darkness

There are many beautiful and powerful passages in the Bible prophesying or promising God’s full reign on earth.  God will create “new heavens and a new earth.”  “Nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither will they learn war any more.”  “They shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid.”  “God will put God’s law within the people, and write it on their hearts.”  “God will wipe every tear from their eyes.  Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.”

Some of us know the agony of waiting more than others.  A mother longs for her challenged child to be able to overcome his limitations and live a fulfilling life.  But she waits in the darkness, not knowing.  African-Americans wonder how long their dream of true freedom and equality will be deferred.  Waiting so long for the reality of the wellbeing promised, we face a number of temptations.  One is to assume that God simply does not exist, that solving the world’s problems (and ours) is all up to us.  Other responses are hopelessness, despair, anger, and self-righteousness, which tend to be self-destructive.  Instead how can we hold onto the beauty and comfort of these promises and find value in the waiting and darkness?

I believe that living in hope brings a better world than living in hopelessness.  I think we have glimpses or moments of knowing inwardly that the promises are true.  And our lives lived in the glow of those help us live more in the promises, making the world better.

I think our logical thinking does not get us to the world we long for, but rather tends to turn us in wrong directions and selfish pursuits.  I think, rather, that we are spiritually formed in the darkness.  Like a seed.  Spiritual growth comes in letting go and loving God inwardly and outwardly.  The waiting we do provides the time and conditions for this growth in grace and truth, allowing us to peer into the darkness and see the Light that is always there.  In the darkness we learn our true proportion; we cannot push God around.

Queries:

What helps you live in disappointment and unknowing?

What promises are meaningful to you?

Prayer:

Teach me your ways, O Holy One, and keep me on your path.

For further reference:

“The lion shall eat straw like the ox. . . .They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain.” (See Isaiah 11: 6-9.)

“The kingdom is not coming with things that can be observed. . . For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.” (See Luke 17: 20-21.)

Wrestling

What is it like to be an academically successful college student wondering if you will be deported before you graduate, sent back to a country you left when you were so young you can’t remember it?   What is it like to be a parent of children you sense won’t have now the chance for success that you had when you were growing up?  Or a parent of children who still suffer the deck-being-stacked-against-them that you lived with years ago?  What about those who study the oceans, fish, and coral reefs, and who are already counting the destruction that is happening?  What about feeling ill but not knowing why, having tests and waiting for the results, fearing the news that might be coming?

Serious worry, fear, anger, hurt—how does one live in these times?  How does one avoid reacting in ways that hurt oneself and maybe others?  Where is hope?

This kind of time may be one in which to wrestle with God, being deeply and rawly engaged—to cry out, complain, be angry.  Faithful wrestling can uncover theological misunderstandings and superficial ideas that may be broken open to allow a stronger and more vibrant faith to emerge.  A quick look at the Psalms will let you know that in your complaint you are in good company:  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  “Why must I walk around mournfully because the enemy oppresses me?” “How long, O Lord?”

As a chaplain in oncology there were times when situations were just too hard to bear.  I remember on such occasions finding a place by myself and having a talk with God.  Sometimes I wrote, sometimes I was able to be in my thoughts and feelings at the core, and to give voice to the pain.  (You could say I raged at God.)  I stayed with those feelings until I felt heard and I was finished.  (There certainly was no formula.) And then there came some measure of peace, some comfort or guidance.  Often the situation didn’t change but I did.  Certainly these have been times of spiritual growth.  I learned a lot about prayer and who God is, and I found greater trust.  Most importantly, I was enabled to live the next day, in the love of the Beloved.

Queries:

Think about a time when you felt frightened, angry, or in pain.  How do you handle such times?

Where is God in hard times?  Does Jesus enter your picture?

Prayer:

“As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.  My soul thirsts for you, for the living God” (Psalm 42: 1-2a).

For further reflection:

“Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.” (See Exodus 32: 22-32.)

[Jesus said,] “I am deeply grieved, even to death . . . And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed . . . (See Matthew 26: 36-46).

Loving Those on the Other Side

During the election season in the United States leading up to November 8, we were divided into camps that sometimes seemed like the good guys against the enemy.  Now that the election is over, how do we learn to love our “enemies,” to let it be possible for us to become one people?  What does it take to be enabled to love those with whom we disagree so strongly?

When I turned to the passages in the gospels of Matthew and Luke in which Jesus tells us to love our enemies, I got some ideas.  In Luke the instruction is given to those “who listen,” which means to hear the words and live them.  I find myself needing to acknowledge my feelings, let them go to God, and then to attune myself to God, to let myself become clay in God’s hands.  The temptation is to carry a political or secular agenda, but the invitation is to love.  It’s hard.

In Luke, Jesus tells us to love our enemies, but then adds, “Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”  What I hear in these words is that we are to transcend all the hateful things that others do to us, to rise above all that would diminish us.  The religious practices of the Gullah people on the Sea Islands of Georgia and South Carolina emphasized this ability to transcend, and people who encountered them were amazed at their lack of negativity toward white people, who had brought them there in slavery.  It’s possible.

In Matthew, Jesus reminds us that we are all children of God—“for God makes God’s sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.”  I hear a warning here not to think of ourselves or others as the evil ones or the good ones, the superior or inferior.  The judging is God’s job.  Ours is, as Friend Johan Mauer writes, “to live in hope and work to bless the community, . . . not letting anyone get marginalized.”  May it be so.

Queries:

What are your feelings about the election?  How might they become part of your prayer?

How can you attune yourself first to God rather than to the secular world?  How are you called to live in love?

Prayer:  

Holy Lord, in you is love in its fullness. Letting go of all fear, of all anger, of all pride, we entrust ourselves to the light of your love.  Remove every obstacle, Lord, which keeps us from the daunting task you have called all of us to perform: to love each other unconditionally, as you love us.  (Jan Brown, Interim Coordinator, Community for Peace and Nonviolence)

For further reference:

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (See Matthew 22: 34-40.)

“Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” (See Romans 13: 8-10.)

Easter

When I was a child Easter was about getting a new dress, a hat to match, patent leather shoes, and white gloves.  We celebrated the resurrection, had lots of people in church and many people who joined the church that day.  We hid Easter eggs with our cousins in our grandparents’ yard, so we were happiest when the day was sunny and the grass was bright green and growing.  As Protestants it was the empty cross that we lifted up.  We paid little attention to the days that had come before.

Now it’s the whole story of these last days of Jesus that inspires me.  Jesus’ struggle with what is coming, his choice to go to Jerusalem anyway, the betrayal of him and his arrest, the trial, the question of whether he had done anything wrong, the brutality, and the screaming of the people demanding that he be crucified—these events resonate with our times and our stories.  I hear the pain and protests of those who claim black lives matter; and I hear the hidden struggles, suffering, and unfairness that so many people endure.

To live through the story each Easter season is to be reminded that we do not suffer alone, that God understands, cares, and loves us in the midst of our own suffering, no matter how great or how small, no matter how deserved or undeserved it is.  The story of the resurrection offers hope when there seems to be no reason to hope.

The challenge is to be present in this Easter story with eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart that is open.  It is all too easy to be skeptical and dismissive instead.

Queries:

What stumbling blocks or particular joys do you experience with Easter?

When life seems unfair and you can’t fix things, where do you find hope?

Prayer:

Sitting quietly in a comfortable chair with feet on the floor, imagine yourself in one of the scenarios that are part of the passion narrative.  Where are you in relation to Jesus?  What do you see, hear, smell?  How do you feel?  What do you say?  What do you learn?

For further reference:

Read any of the gospel passion narratives—Matthew 26-28; Mark 14:27–16:8; Luke 22:39-24:53; John 18-21.

“For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” (See I Corinthians 1: 18-31.)

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).

Hope: A Spiritual Discipline

As a person who can look at a situation and acknowledge the hard things and who is not afraid to stand with pain and suffering, I can also easily despair. I know we need hope. It is life-giving. In Waging Peace: Discipline and Practice (Pendle Hill Pamphlet #420), Pamela Haines names practices for learning to live transformed for peace, and the discipline of hope is the first she mentions. What is the kind of hope that brings life and possibility?

The book of Jeremiah in the Hebrew scriptures talks about false prophets who cry “Peace, peace” when there is no peace. Hope not based in reality is not hope. Neither is it wishful thinking or simply expectation of what I want to happen. True hope is based on what we know or have experienced, and it is hope in what we cannot now see. We may not even be able to imagine it. Yet we have reasons to hold onto its possibility and to live toward that.

We may, for example, hope for the healing of a friend’s incurable disease. How can our hearts not desire that?! Yet if our hope is merely to get what we want, we will likely be disappointed or disillusioned.   Hope that is true hope is in a larger definition of what healing is, a larger vision of what is possible–a hope that is based on an awareness of the vastness of God’s goodness and the depth of God’s love. Healing can be a cure, but it can also be presence, comfort, tending, and bringing wholeness that extends into the world and beyond.

Our task is to learn to look for and to see the signs of hope. That may take opening our hearts to the One who makes all things new. It may also take learning to notice what we can be thankful for even in the midst of troubles.   Pamela says we need to develop the muscle of hope.

Queries:

What is your experience with hope?

What would it take to increase your hopefulness?

Prayer:

Hope is a prayer because it connects you with the Divine. Find a way to practice hope.

For further reflection:

“They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” (See Jeremiah 8: 8-11).

“Sing and rejoice, you children of the Day and of the Light. For the Lord God is at work in this thick night of darkness that may be felt.” (George Fox, Epistle 227, 1663).