Have you ever noticed
that trees are most beautiful
just before they sleep?
their impending rest
on display in gold and red hues
Massive quantities of leaves
ready to relinquish their grip
prepare for their journey to the ground
dust to dust
there to be transformed into food and fuel;
there is beauty and sadness here.
It’s hard not to look
to stare in wonder at it all;
what tender whispers blow through those leaves,
calling our name?
Inviting us to participate somehow.
Maybe we’re not all that different;
It seems the older we get, the more loss we experience
our grip turns weak and tentative
We’ve fallen too many times.
We all have to take the journey from branch to ground;
can we trust the wind to carry us to where we need to be?
can we trust that leaves will come back?
can we, like the leaves, trust the distance from branch to ground?
can we allow the wind to take us from our familiar grip?
can we abandon ourselves to the process of death and rebirth?
Jesus, Lord of the trees, knows.
He did this himself, entered into it with gusto
“for the joy set before him,” the old writer says
Can we see the joy in dying trees?
If death is the ultimate abandonment
the ultimate relinquishment
the apex of letting go
I can’t help but thinkthat even death He makes beautiful.
Friday, October 31, 2014
Sunday, October 05, 2014
“Autumn is making its way across the prairie, and with it God’s silent and unseen artists turn the entire landscape into a magnificent work of art. The colors of the trees, the little touches added by the farmers – green and golden fields, hay bales put in just the right places. Cattle – red, brown, black, white; the little wild turkeys and their ever-watchful mothers just outside my window; indeed, never has there been an artist like God.
Thank you Creator God for the artistic changes of the seasons, for the beauty of your fascinating and ever changing creation! Come dear autumn, bathe our senses with your beauty and lay living nature gently to sleep in the arms of winter. There all may rest to be restored in the blazing beauty of spring!
(Norman Shawchuck, in A Guide to Prayer For All Who Walk With God, 2013: p.304)
Saturday, September 20, 2014
Allen P. Ross, professor of divinity at Beeson Divinity School, has a familiar place in my life as I learned Hebrew through his “Introducing Biblical Hebrew” textbook. I have a great deal of respect for his skill and passion for the Hebrew language, so I was eager to review one of his commentaries on the Psalms. Volume 2 covers books 2-3 in the Psalter, which includes Psalms 42-89.
Audience: Hebrew students and scholars, potentially pastors; expository thrust takes aim at equipping preachers with some skill in Hebrew.
Format and layout of how each Psalm is handled:
Text and textual variants (translates and comments on the form of the text)
Composition and Context (basic overview of Psalm with a view to how it relates to other Psalms within the Psalter)
Exegetical Analysis (brief summary and outline of the text)
Commentary in Expository Form (thematic outline and commentary, providing thought for application and experience)
Message and Application (summary of the overall message with a view toward contemporary relevance
Strengths: Ross has undeniable skill in the Hebrew language and bears this out in his outlining and summarizing. Textual issues are handled with care and precision, giving the reader assurance that the original text is being portrayed in a timely and accurate fashion.
Weaknesses: The technical nature of the commentary does not lend itself easily to actual Christian practice of praying the Psalms, which is their purpose. The warmth and vivacity that are at the heart of the Psalms seem (to this reader at least) to be obscured by all the technical jargon. Thus, it’s use seems to be for a fairly limited audience and would need to be supplemented by other commentaries that help round it out.
Also, the volume lacks an introductory section. Volume 1 contains all the introductory material, so unless the reader has access to that volume, Volume 2’s usefulness is quite limited.
Overall, a fine volume, but with limited capability of conveying the power and vitality of the Psalms as they call us to share in their experience of Yahweh.
Thanks to Kregel Academic for a copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.
Friday, September 19, 2014
In addition to my daily prayer for 2014, in the past 4-5 months I’ve also come to find great daily benefit in John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer. It was designed by Wesley to help Methodist believers regularly renew their covenant relationship with God. I’ve expanded it a bit, to express what I’m learning and seeking (underlined portions are my additions). For resources on the original prayer, see the links at the end of this post.
Abba, I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,
exalted for you, or brought low for you;
For you Jesus,
let me be full, let me be empty,
let me have all things, let me have nothing:
For you Abba,
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal. I let it all loose.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit – my habitation, sufficiency and joy,
you are mine and I am yours.
I am My Beloved’s, and He is mine.
So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.
There are two powerful ideas in this prayer that help me the most. The first is the focused practicality of the surrender being offered – “rank me with whom you will . . . put me to doing, put me to suffering,” and shockingly, “let me be employed for you, let me be laid aside for you.” This kind of surrender offends my ego and scandalizes our current Christian culture of affluence seeking. I don’t know very many leaders willing to pray things like this; perhaps that tells us something of the state of the church today? Such surrender can be offered “for Jesus.”
The second idea that grips my imagination is how the prayer ends by enfolding the will in the very center of the Trinitarian life. Abandonment to the sufficiency of the Trinity is at the heart of the Christian life. It is the Christian life, and it is what Jesus died to provide us. I’ve added “my habitation, sufficiency and joy” to help me see and experience this. Wesley’s covenant comes down to this: “you are mine and I am yours.” I am my Beloved’s and He is mine (Song of Solomon 2:16); this is what it means to walk with God day by day, and we can seek it and experience it. This is the good news.
“A Covenant With God,” from the The Methodist Church in Britain
a .pdf copy of the original text
Sunday, August 31, 2014
I first experienced this compline as I listened to an audio recording from one of Renovare’s “With-God Life” conference sessions from 2005. I was deeply impacted by it, as I’ve tried various means to place my sleep in the arms of God.
I have sought these means mainly because I typically wake up very restless and afraid, feeling very dark inside. It takes a while for hope and peace to take possession of my mind and heart, usually as a result of much concerted effort and time spent in Psalm 23.
St. Aidan died this day (August 31) in A.D. 651, so I thought it fitting to post this today. May it bless your sleep, “for he grants sleep to those he loves.” (Ps 127:2 NIV)
Google defines Compline as “a service of evening prayers forming part of the Divine Office of the Western Christian Church, traditionally said (or chanted) before retiring for the night.”
I also love the fact that the compline uses some of my favorite words from the Psalms:
I lie down and sleep;
I wake again, because the Lord sustains me. (Ps 3:5 ESV)
In peace I will lie down and sleep,
for you alone, Lord,
make me dwell in safety. (Ps 4:8 NIV)
Saturday, August 30, 2014
From my journal entry on 8/26/14:
“Command me to be silent and still before You, Lord;
quiet me in Your love.”
My mind (thought, feeling) is the first and strongest place that my attempt to “make things happen” shows up – because of the close proximity of the mind with the will. My mind presents options to the will for choice, and the will relies on the mind for available options.
To quiet the mind, really, is to let go of the burden of making things happen and to open up to receiving the life that God is giving, the life that I’m becoming.
Thanksgiving attends this receiving, naturally and organically, just as frustration, lust and anger attend attempts to make a life for myself.
The will and mind are healed as they are freed from making things happen. Freed from the burden of securing provision, security and significance, the mind and will are free to consider and choose what is good, beautiful and true (will of God).
Silence and stillness are food and drink to the burden weary soul, restoring the mind and will with endless life.
“We need also times of silent waiting, alone, when the busy intellect is not leaping from problem to problem, and from puzzle to puzzle. If we learn the secret of carrying a living silence in the center of our being we can listen on the run. The listening silence can become intertwined with all our inward prayers. A few moments of relaxed silence, alone, every day, are desperately important. When distracting noises come, don’t fight against them, do not elbow them out, but accept them and weave them by prayer into the silence.” (Thomas Kelly, The Sanctuary of the Soul, in A Guide to Prayer (Upper Room Books, 2013), p.293).
I read this quote from Thomas Kelly several weeks ago as I was trying to recover from the noise and turmoil of air travel (we flew to Oregon to visit family). I only fly every 1-2 years and it’s usually a stressful event filled with anxiety. It feels so noisy, chaotic and out of control, and it usually triggers deep fears in me of being on my own without the resources I need. This is not actually true, but my body thinks and acts as if it is, because of experiences I’ve had in the past. I’ve found some practices over the years that have helped provide space for the grace of God to access these wounded parts of my soul. Times of silence, stillness and listening prayer have been essential to the deep inner healing that I need. Thankfully, anxiety levels have dropped significantly over the past few years as a result.
For the first few days after travelling when I closed my eyes I could only see and hear the noise and bustle of travellers. Airports and airplanes are filled with many stressed and busy people, often in a hurry and irritable (myself included!) One of the first things I do when travelling is try to find a place where I will be able to be quiet and alone in the early mornings. I have found this essential to my sanity and peace.
“There should be at least a room, or some corner where no one will find you and disturb you or notice you. You should be able to untether yourself from the world and set yourself free, loosing all the fine strings and strands of tension that bind you, by sight, by sound, by thought, to the presence of other men.” (Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation)
After a few failed attempts, I found a rhythm that worked for me. As I settled into a safe place and time, I began to be able to calm the voices and still the images. By God’s gentle invitation and provision, I entered into stillness and silence, trying to keep my focus on him alone. I could listen and receive.
I greatly desired to experience the “living silence” that Kelly speaks of that I could carry with me amidst the busyness of sight-seeing and conversations with family. At times I felt a reservoir of peace that I could access when out and about. A trip to the restroom, a silent moment in between sights and conversations, provided me an opportunity to reconnect with this living silence within me. It helped solidify my soul and keep me centered, at least somewhat. Continual attention to the fount of silence in the mornings renewed the reservoir.
There were many times, however, when it didn’t “work,” and I felt just as frazzled and restless as ever. I tried not to linger on these too much, but try again when I felt up to it. I think it’s something I can continue to grow in, and I think it’s something that makes Jesus smile, which is good enough for me!
Thursday, July 31, 2014
July 2014 has special significance for me. It marks 25 years walking with Jesus and 20 years of marriage with my beautiful bride, Cheri. These two relationships are the most important in my life, and their existence and continued growth continue to humble and befuddle me with mystery, holiness and grace.
As I look back, I’ve been passed by many believers far more gifted and on fire than I was, only to encounter their shipwrecked hulls several years later. Many marriages too, tanked and beyond repair, lie on the rocky outcrops of human self-will.
I don’t point this out to pat myself or my marriage on the back, quite the contrary – I have no idea why it’s been like that. When a friend heard it was our 20th anniversary this month, he asked, “20 years, eh? I guess you have everything figured out by now!” I answered, “No, but we’ve learned that we are free from having all our questions answered.”
The faithfulness of Jesus persists (Lamentations 3:22-24). This is the only reason why I’m still a disciple of Jesus happily married to Cheri. So, to give praise where it is due, I’ll simply quote my favorite Matt Redman song and fade into the background. Thank you, Jesus.