Poems

This poem by Mary Oliver pretty much describes my morning:

Just Rain

The clouds did not say soon, but who can tell for sure,

it wasn't the first time I had been fooled; the sky-doors opened and the rain began

to fall upon all of us: the grass, the leaves, my face, my shoulders,

and the flowered body of the pond where it made its soft unnotational music

on the pond's springy surface, and then, the birds joined in and I too felt called toward such throat praise.

Well, the whole afternoon went on that way until I thought I could feel the almost born things

in the earth rejoicing.

As for myself, I just kept walking, thinking:

once more I am grateful to be present.

(From Evidence,  a book of poems by Mary Oliver that my children gave me for my 50th birthday)

 I try to read poems often, and I especially enjoy poems that I can understand, that I can read without working too hard. I find they often speak to my soul in ways that other types of writing can't.

I especially love Mary Oliver's poems, and I enjoy a book of poems that Garrison Keillor edited, simply entitled Good Poems.

Give poems a try!  You just might like them!

 

Stillness ...

“Be still, and know that I am God …”

How rarely we do that; just be still. Just let God be God.

It is so hard.

Because if he is God, then I am definitely not.

And sometimes that is just tough to face.

So, we run and run and run, hoping somehow to prove our worth, to find meaning, to justify our existence.

Is it too much for God to ask that one day a week we “be still?” Is it too much for God to ask that every once in awhile we simply allow him to be God?

This poem from Mary Oliver helps me do these really hard things:

Today

Today I’m flying low and I’m

not saying a word.

I’m letting the voodoos of ambition sleep.

The world goes on as it must,

the bees in the garden rumbling a bit,

the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten.

And so forth.

But I’m taking the day off.

Quiet as a feather.

I hardly move though really I’m traveling

a terrific distance.

Stillness. One of the doors

into the temple.

Set the world on fire ...

"Be who God created you to be and you will set the world on fire."

(Catherine of Siena - 1347-1380)

God's Mission ...

I remember sitting in a class listening to people answer the question, “What is God’s mission in the world?”

To be honest, I was really disappointed by the answers.

They were almost all kind of individualistic in nature.

Many of them were violent and kind of “end-times” oriented … the idea that all God cared about was getting a bunch of individuals into heaven before he blew the rest of the world to bits.

There were no answers that seemed big enough to be God’s, you know?

My heart and soul were uninspired.

And so I went searching, both in the Bible and from great thinkers: Where could I find a richer, deeper, truer understanding about what God’s mission is in this messed up world?

I went back to one of the modern day classics, NT Wright’s book, Simply Christian, which many compare to CS Lewis’ classic, Mere Christianity.

Here’s how Wright spells out God’s mission:

“Christianity is about the belief that the Living God, in fulfillment of his promises and as the climax of the story of Israel, has accomplished all this – the finding, saving, the giving of new life – in Jesus. He has done it.

With Jesus, God’s rescue operation has been put into effect once and for all. A great door has swung open in the cosmos which can never again be shut. It’s the door to the prison where we’ve been keep chained up.

We are offered freedom: freedom to experience God’s rescue for ourselves, to go through the open door and explore the new world to which we now have access.

In particular, we are all invited – summoned, actually – to discover, through following Jesus, that this new world is indeed a place of justice, spirituality, relationship and beauty, and that we are not only to enjoy it as such but to work at bringing it to birth on earth as in heaven.

In listening to Jesus, we discover whose voice it is that has echoed around the hearts and minds of the human race all along.”

Now that … that motivates me!

Be a tree ...

"A tree brings glory to God by being a tree."

(Thomas Merton)

Enjoyment ...

So, I am working on a teaching for Sunday about contentment and generosity.

And I stumbled across a word I don’t find often in the Bible; a word I don’t think many of us equate with God.

But there it is … right there in the closing passages of Paul’s first letter to Timothy:

“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” (6:17)

Now, amidst the commands to the rich, we might miss it.

We might miss the fullness, the sheer weight of that last phrase …

“… God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.”

Um … everything?

For our enjoyment?

Yup. That is what it says!

How beautiful and good is that?

On this gorgeous fall day still ablaze with the oranges and reds of the maple trees, may I suggest an experiment?

As you go through your day eating and drinking and laughing and talking and working and smiling and listening and looking, try to see everything … and I mean everything … as the rich provision of a God who, at a very deep level, wants us to actually enjoy the good gifts he freely provides.

I am going to start right now … by enjoying my dog and my legs and my neighborhood.

I am going to take a walk of pure enjoyment!

Live gladly ...

To tie in to yesterday’s post about how God gives us everything for our enjoyment …

These two quotes from the ancient mystic Julian of Norwich:

“The greatest honor we can give to God is to live gladly because of the knowledge of his love.”

And …

“What God most wants is to see you smile because you know how much God loves you.”

What if the most powerful way we can express our love and gratitude to God is by simply living gladly, enjoying all things, and smiling?

I think we make this whole “friendship with God” thing way, way too complicated. Way too hard …

And then we fuss about it all the time, always trying to “get better” at it, “work harder” for God, “do better” for him …  while missing the fact that he has provided all we need and simply wants us to live with joy because of all he has done.

Live gladly...

It seems the very least we can do.

Laughter ...

"... the laughter of the heavens is too loud for us to hear."

GK Chesterton

Advent ...

What might Advent look like to the world if the church settled into a season of "expectant waiting" rather than a season of "frenzied running?"

 

It is a sin to be sad ...

If you are aware of the origins of this blog, you know it flows out of a class called “A Way of Life.” This class is a part of the Vantage Point 3 curriculum our church uses as a discipleship/leadership training process. See my links section for the VP3 website! (It is under the "About Alice" heading)

Our current class just spent 2 weeks thinking and talking about the idea of Sabbath.

And, as usual, the topic stirred up lots of dust!

Emotions, memories, ideas, rules, perceptions, misperceptions, a bent toward legalism, a hat tip to forgetfulness … the full monty.

So, I thought it might be a good opportunity to write a few posts on the topic.

I have no intention of perfectly explaining how Christians should interact with Sabbath.

I am not going to put a pretty bow on the topic and answer all possible questions.

I simply want to present some of the most eloquent and thoughtful stuff I’ve ever read on the topic.

I’ll leave the rest up to you …

So, to start, the classic writer on the topic must be the Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel. His book, The Sabbath, is worth your time …

In the introduction, Heschel’s daughter Susanna writes this:

“Observing the Sabbath is not only about refraining from work, but about creating menuha, a restfulness that is also a celebration.

The Sabbath is a day for body as well as soul.

It is a sin to be sad on the Sabbath, a lesson my father often repeated and always observed.”

 

I don’t know when, where, how, or even if you observe any kind of Sabbath in the midst of your week, but if you do, or if you plan to start … please start with this:

It is a sin to be sad on the Sabbath …

Oh, now that is good stuff …

A life of gratitude ...

Thinking a lot about gratitude these days …

Some mornings I am just undone with how much I have to be thankful for.

It almost hurts sometimes. Do you know what I mean?

So, I thank God. I try to keep an attitude of gratefulness going all day.

Reminds me of this bit of wisdom:

“Praising God isn’t something we do, an activity we engage in among other activities.

It is a fundamental way of being  toward God …

Praise links us to God in love.

The praise of the psalmist is an expression of delight, and so is our own praise.

Of course God wants it.

It is the recognition, both conscious and unconscious, that God’s name is hallowed in all things.”

(Roberta C. Bondi)

A great question to lead off the year:

Is your fundamental way of being toward God one of gratitude, or one of complaint?

If complaint, how might you go about developing a way of being that is all about thankfulness?

Joy ...

"Joy is the serious business of heaven." (CS Lewis)

Drunk on grace ...

Grace, my friends … grace!

Robert Capon writes:

“The Reformation was a time when men went blind, staggering drunk because they had discovered, in the dusty basement of late medievalism

 … a whole cellar full of fifteen-hundred-year-old, two-hundred proof GRACE –

 bottle after bottle of pure distillate of Scripture,

 one sip of which could convince anyone that God saves us single-handedly.

 The word of the Gospel – after all those centuries of trying to lift yourself into heaven by worrying about the perfection of your bootstraps –

 suddenly turned out to be a flat announcement that

 the saved were home before they started.”

Oh, isn’t that good news, my friends?

Will you live in that truth today?

It is not up to you or to me … thank you, Jesus!

We huff and puff ...

Whenever I need to be reminded of the unconditional, unearned grace of God, I read Brennan Manning.

Today, this was his gift to me:

"My message, unchanged for more than fifty years, is this:

God loves you unconditionally, as you are and not as you should be, because nobody is as they should be.

It is the message of grace...

A grace that pays the eager beaver who works all day long the same wages as the grinning drunk who shows up at ten till five.

A grace that hikes up the robe and runs breakneck toward the prodigal reeking of sin and wraps him up and decides to throw a party

no ifs, ands, or buts...

This vulgar grace is indiscriminate compassion.

It works without asking anything of us...

Grace is sufficient even though we huff and puff with all our might to try to find something it cannot cover.

Grace is enough...

Jesus is enough."

 From one "huffer and puffer" to all of you...

May you live this weekend fully drenched in the grac e of God!

Somehow ...

Somehow in thanksgiving I see clearly,

if but for a fleeting moment,

that much, much has come my way as a normal part of my dependency,

without my being aware of it…

Perhaps, it is always true that the test of my thanksgiving is the humility which it inspires.

Self-examination, thanksgiving, humility:

let us experience them in our quiet time in the presence of God.

(Howard Thurman, 1899 – 1981)

 

           
                                                                                       

 


1157 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10075        (212) 535-5530
www.allsoulsnyc.org         www.facebook.com/AllSoulsNYC

To call myself beloved ...

Whenever I feel like my life does not measure up (whatever that means),

or that I need to somehow "do more" (whatever that means),

I find myself leaning into this little poem,

and feeling better:

"And did you get what

you wanted from this life, even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved, to feel myself

beloved on the earth."

(Raymond Carver)

There now... don't you feel better?

 

The greatest of virtues ...

"Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others."

(Cicero)

The Gospel liberates ...

Doing some great reading on GRACE for my Easter teaching... and stumbled upon this beautiful statement.

See if it doesn't lift your spirits today:

"The gospel liberates us to be okay with not being okay. We know we're not - though we try very hard to convince other people we are. But the gospel tells us, "Relax, it is finished"

Because of the gospel, we have nothing to prove or protect.

We can stop pretending.

The gospel frees us from trying to impress people, to prove ourselves to people, to make people think we're something that we're not.

The gospel frees us from what one writer calls "the law of capability" - the law, he says, "that judges us wanting if we are not capable, if we cannot handle it all, if we are not competent to balance our diverse commitments without a slip."

The gospel grants us the strength to admit we're weak and needy and restless - knowing that Christ's finished work has proven to be all the strength and fulfillment and peace we could ever want, and more.

The gospel frees us from the urge to self-gain, to push ourselves forward for our own purposes and agenda and self-esteem.

When you understand that your significance and identity and purpose and direction are all anchored in Christ, you don't have to win - you're free to lose.

And nothing in this broken world can beat a person who isn't afraid to lose!

You'll be free to say crazy, risky, counterintuitive stuff like, "To live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Phil. 1:21)! That's pure, unadulterated freedom.

Since Jesus is our strength, our weaknesses don't threaten our sense of worth and value.

Now we're free to admit our wrongs and weaknesses without feeling as if our flesh is being ripped off our bones."

(Tullian Tchividjian)

Now, take a deep breath... and live your day free and forgiven! It is finished. It is not up to you. Thank God!

Which sermon?

As we approach the celebration of Easter, the resurrection of Jesus... preceded, of course, by the rememberance of Good Friday, the crucifixion of Jesus, I have been pondering two little thoughts these days:

1. I read this the other day: 90% of sermons preached in the American church can be summed up in two words:

TRY HARDER!

and,

2.  The Holy Spirit preaches only one sermon, over and over. These three words:

IT. IS. FINISHED.

Which sermon ultimately drives your life?

Which sermon is Easter about?

Which sermon sounds like "Good News?"

If you seek God alone ...

 

 

If you seek God alone, then that which is from God in others will come alive, whether or not you can see it.

Jesus sees what is of God in others, even if it is still hidden as a tiny seed.

This is the gospel you must proclaim.

Preach it simply.

Jesus values each person; he sees their dignity as God created them.

He came to rid every person of shame and self-contempt, of the feeling that they are nothing and can do nothing, the feeling that they have ruined everything and nothing can change that, the feeling that all is hopeless.

(Christoph Frederick Blumhardt)