Easter Week

When I was a child, our church celebrated Easter Sunday, the triumphant day of resurrection.  Perhaps there was a Maundy Thursday service of some kind, but if so, nothing was memorable.  We focused on expressing new life in Christ and giving glory to God (to put it most positively) by showing up on Easter morning in new clothes.

As an adult I find it much more wonderful to celebrate, or walk through, the whole of Passion Week.  In what happens to Jesus there is so much that speaks to our human condition.  How many of us have experienced betrayal by someone who was a close part of our circle, maybe even a spouse or a parent or a sibling—betrayal in terrible proportions, or even in relatively small things?  I think of the wife whose husband has an affair with her best friend.  Any betrayal is devastating.

What about having friends disappear when you most need them?  I think of a breast cancer patient who told me that her mother was no longer talking with her.  Or the one whose husband walked out not long after the diagnosis.  To be abandoned by friends is bad enough.  To cry out to God and feel as if God is not there is even harder.

What about being accused unjustly, or treated abusively and derisively?   Such treatment may well steal our sense of self.  Or what about Jesus’ disciples in this story?  Like them we have notions about the purpose of what we are doing.  How hard it is if what we have worked for so long suddenly falls apart.

What I learn in the passion story is that my suffering is not unknown, that God is with me in it regardless of how I may feel or how the suffering may have come to pass.  And that no matter how bad things are, the suffering is not the end of the story.

Queries:

What has been your experience of Easter?

How can you connect inwardly with the suffering and the joy of Easter?

Prayer:

Jesus, forgive us for the barriers and blocks we put up to keep us from living in the abundant joy you desire for all of us.  May you reign in our hearts and in our world.

For further reference:

Read the passion story in one of the gospels—Matthew 26-28, Mark 14-16, Luke 22-24, John 18-21.

“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10: 10).

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Anticipation

Thinking at this time of year about Mary, the mother of Jesus, I wonder what it was like for a woman to be pregnant in those days.  Would Mary have been fearful, anticipating trouble and even the possibility of dying, or would she have been excited, anticipating the new life and wondering what this baby would be like?  I feel virtually certain she never anticipated watching this expected child die by crucifixion.

Anticipation is a tricky thing.  The free and open delight of anticipation is a joy.  I have a photograph of my then two-year-old son watching for the coming of a fireman’s parade.  His face radiates presence and joy.  He had no particular expectations or attachment to what had to happen.  He was just into it.

On the other hand, we can focus so much on what is to come that we miss what is happening in the present.  We can also anticipate negative things, being fearful and anxious, trying to hold onto control, struggling with perfectionism.  This kind of anticipation steals life and squashes the possibility of joy.  Of course, it can be a fact that hard things will happen.   Yet even in such circumstances one can find a peace that allows one to live in anticipation, not of what is to come, but in each moment with the presence and joy that is possible.

At Christmas time it matters what we anticipate.  Anticipating (maybe expecting) happy children and wonderful presents, or too much to do, family feuds, and food you don’t eat will color the whole season.  What we expect to happen usually misses the mark.  What would it be like if we let go of anticipation characterized by expectations, fears, and controlling, and with openness and wonder anticipated Christ’s coming, within ourselves or around us?

Queries:

What is anticipation like for you?

What is the meaning of Christmas for you?  Does it, or could it, include life-giving anticipation?

Prayer:

Take time in the busyness of this season to reflect on your experience of Christmas and make room for the New One to be born.

For further reflection:

“Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together. . . .” (See Isaiah 40: 3-5.)

“The shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place. . . .” (See Luke 2: 8-20.)

Lost Baggage

On a trip to Rome for the wedding of a relative who grew up there and whose parents still live in Rome, my husband and I arrived but our suitcases didn’t.  Trying to sleep the second night we were there, lying in bed wearing my friend’s nightgown, I fretted.  Not only was I missing my clothes for coping with the heat of Rome and the special dress I had picked for the wedding, I was missing jewelry I had packed, including several pieces of some value and much sentimental significance.

I felt foolish for having packed the necklaces, helpless in the face of cultural and language barriers and airline run-arounds, and pained by the mistakes and losses.  I lay there hurting.  Eventually I turned to prayer—not so much the kind with words addressed to God requesting a fix or a rescue, but more putting my heart in the goodness of God.  At a certain point I felt myself let go.  I valued the clothes and jewelry; but as far as I knew they were gone, and they were only things, possessions.  I had a choice—to be miserable or to make the best of things and be open and present to the adventure.

I had a wonderful time.  Letting go of fretting about my losses also let go much of my usual need to be in control and even my perfectionism.  In the week we were in Rome I found joy all over the place.  And that joy has followed me home, allowing even more spiritual and psychological changes and freedom.

In reflecting on the experience I find myself back in the Lord ’s PrayerGive us this day our daily bread.  As I understand these words, all we need is what God knows we need for this one day.  All the extra is unnecessary, maybe even baggage that gets in the way of life.  I still have too much stuff, and I’m not interested in losing anything.  But I do have a taste of another way.

(P.S.: We did retrieve our luggage, with no items missing, one month after it should have arrived in Rome.)

Queries:

What baggage would you benefit from letting go?

Where can you go for comfort and direction when things go wrong?

Prayer:

Creator and Sustainer, help me to know what really matters and to be able to let go of the rest.

For further reflection:

“Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” (See Luke 12: 13-21.)

“. . . do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. . . (See Matthew 6: 25-34).

Simply Receiving

About every other year I get to spend a week at Sanibel, an island off Ft. Myers, Florida. My favorite activity is observing the birds of the area, found particularly at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, as well as elsewhere. By 2014 I had been to the bird sanctuary so often that I began the week with a checklist of the birds I expected to see. I soon found myself frustrated that I wasn’t seeing certain ones, and also surprisingly bored at the whole enterprise.

This year I went to Sanibel without expectations but rather wondering what I would see. I gave up trying to be in control of the experience, and I opened to receive the gifts God provided. I was curious about what would show up, confident that there would be treats. I just didn’t know what, where, or when they would be. This attitude left me much lighter and more joyful. And the week was full of gifts.

If we come to the spiritual life with expectations of how things are to be and what is supposed to happen, we will find frustration and disappointment, and too much focus on ourselves. The spiritual life is about God, God’s work in us, and gratitude for the gifts we are given often in the midst of ordinary living, even without asking or imagining such is possible. A much more abundant life comes when we let go of expectations and notions, simply be real, and open up to where God/Love/Grace may be.

Queries:

Reflecting on your day or your week or your month, what gifts do you notice that you weren’t expecting?

What blocks you from a relationship with God (or Jesus or the Spirit)? Are your intellectual expectations or ways of thinking involved in the blockage?

Prayer:

Imagining yourself in the presence of the holy, hold your hands out in front of you with palms facing down, fingers straight out. Now squeeze your hands into a tight fist, grasping and holding on. Next, turn your fists over so that the closed fingers are facing up. Slowly let your fingers open and release all that you are holding so tightly. Feel yourself relax.

For further reference:

(Remembering that wait means to let time elapse and also to attend or be attentive to) “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. . . . (Isaiah 40:31)

“God’s mercies are new every morning” (See Lamentations 3: 22-24).

“This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24).

Joy

One day I was in a group talking about our favorite part of Christmas. “I love having my grandsons come to my house and make presents for their parents,” Dot said. “They really get into it and get excited. Their love for their parents is so apparent.” While she shared her story, her whole face was a smile, her eyes danced and radiated delight. The joy she felt communicated itself to the rest of us and we too knew joy.

On another time with the group Jim told us about the sudden death of a dear friend of his. We felt his grief and invited him and others to tell us about the man. Their faces glowed as they told of the man’s care for the land and for the people of our area, and of all the quiet differences he had made in our community. Even though the circumstances were sad, joy dwelt in our hearts, because as a group we were united in grief, appreciation for the friend and the land, and love for one other.

Whereas happiness is light and carefree and depends on a positive environment, joy is something different. It is deep and strengthening and can happen in any kind of circumstances because it comes from within. Joy is the condition when the deepest part of me connects with another, united by something ineffably other.

Queries:

What is your experience of joy? Of “something ineffably other”?

How attuned are you to noticing experiences of unity, allowing them to teach and change you?

Prayer:

Make a collage of joy. Play music that touches your soul and brings deep joy. Dance with joy. Open your senses to joy in any way that works for you.

For further reflection:

“Praise God with trumpet sound; praise God with lute and harp!” (See Psalm 150. I like NRSV best here.)

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control . . .” (See Galatians 5:22-26).

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).

Sacrifice

My grandson Jack has problems letting anyone cut his hair or touch his mouth, so when he fell and knocked out his one permanent upper front tooth, the trauma was worse than usual. The only way for the dentist to be able to re-implant the tooth was for his mom, Heather, to comfort Jack with the pressure of her body so the dentist could safely work in Jack’s mouth.

Heather, having as a child had many difficult experiences with her own knocked-out front tooth, had to cope with Jack’s profuse bleeding, his intense anxiety, and her own memories. She hesitated briefly. Then she pulled herself together and gave herself up for her son.

The world teaches—be first, climb the corporate ladder, be perfect (that is, better than other people), get more money. Jesus teaches–life is found not in trying to save your life but rather in giving it away for his sake. This message is given twice in Matthew, once in Mark, and twice in Luke—a solid witness. When we give ourselves for others, work together for the common good, let the ego die, we do not become lost. Instead we find joy, meaning and purpose, and more ability to live through the hard times.

The care of a parent for a child is a place that such self-giving love is required over and over. To love that way is not about doing good in order to get rewards from Jesus. It is a school for learning how to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Queries:

What stories do you have about self-giving love?

We can lose our lives for the sake of lots of things. What is different about losing one’s life “for Jesus’ sake”?

Prayer:

Think of a troubled situation or person you are concerned about. Hold that concern in your heart. Hold it in the Light. Pray about it.

For further reflection:

“They who find their lives will lose them . . .” (See Matthew 10:39 and 16:25; Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24 and 17:32).

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself . . .” (See Matthew 22: 34-40; Mark 12: 28-34; Luke 10: 25-28).