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.

Be holy where you are ...

I am thoughtful this week about the idea that most of human unhappiness stems from within.

We are unhappy, many of us, with ourselves.

I often wonder what kind of energy might be freed up in the human soul if we simply were done disliking ourselves, berating ourselves, wishing we were someone else.

This is why I love the Merton quote I posted yesterday: “A tree brings glory to God by being a tree.”

That simple line says almost everything I want to say about self-acceptance, but also about the most profound way to glorify God – by simply becoming oneself.

So, more on this topic from Mother Theresa:

“The president of Mexico sent for me. I told him that he had to become holy as a president: not a Missionary of Charity, but as a president.

He looked at me a bit surprised, but it is like that: we have to become holy, each of us, in the place where God has put us.”

What might it look like for you to “become holy” in the place where God has put you?

Give up the idea that you should be somewhere, someone else.

Use all your God-given energy to become more and more who you actually are, right where you are.

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.

Merry Christmas ...

A little break from the Sabbath writing …

Today at church a couple I love told me about a new song that basically states if a store doesn’t have a Merry Christmas sign in their window, Christians shouldn’t shop there.

They were excited about the song and wanted to share it with me.

Now, listen … this is a great couple.

But on this issue, I think they are missing the mark and I (very kindly and quietly) told them I disagreed with what this song was saying.

I wonder where we got this idea … that the way we “witness” to the world around us is to be rude and demanding and arrogant.

Nowhere in the Scriptures does it say, “Go and demand that your culture practice Christian holidays the way you want them to.”

Nowhere does it say, “Go and demand your own way, and thus attract the world.”

Nowhere does it say, “Go and force your faith on people … they’ll love it!”

But the Scriptures do say … Love… Love those who love you. But especially love those who don’t love you. Actually love your enemy.

They do say … Be completely humble, and gentle.

They do say … Be kind. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who persecute you.

They do say … As far as it depends on you, be at peace with all people.

So I say … go into any and every store, regardless of the sign on the window, and as you interact with those inside, be loving, kind, grateful and full of grace.

And kindly, gently, humbly wish everyone a Merry Christmas on your way out …

Grace or un-grace?

Doing some reading for our Way of Life class tomorrow, and stumbled on Anne Lamott’s definition of grace:

“It is unearned love – the love that goes before, that greets us on the way.

It’s the help you receive when you have no bright ideas left, when you are empty and desperate and have discovered that your best thinking and most charming charm have failed you.

Grace is the light or electricity or breeze that takes you from that isolated place and puts you with others who are as startled and embarrassed and eventually grateful as you are to be there.”

 So, here is the question:

Is your life at its core filled with grace or un-grace?

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?

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!

Free to love ...

The greatest commands are to love God and love others.

This is Bible 101.

Yet, we fail at this over and over; especially the second one.

I should say, I fail at this over and over...

Sometimes we think we just need to try harder and get more serious in order to do this.

I wonder if instead, we need to drink in more of God's grace for ourselves in order to be a better lover of neighbor.

Listen to this:

"God reminds us again and again that things between he and us are forever fixed.

They are the rendezvous points where God declares to us concretely that the debt has been paid, the ledger put away, and that everything we need, in Christ we already possess.

This re-convincing produces humility, because we realize that our needs are fulfilled.

We don't have to worry about ourselves anymore.

This in turn frees us to stop looking out for what we think we need and liberates us to love our neighbor by looking out for what they need."

(Tullian Tchividjian)

The more fully we allow ourselves to sink into the unearned Good News of God's grace for us, the more we will be able to live into his command to love our  neighbors as we love ourselves.

Isn't that cool how those two things are inextricably linked?

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)

 

           
                                                                                       

 


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Exactly the opposite ...

So, I am reading a book called "One-Way Love" by Tullian Tchividjian, who happens to be Billy Graham's grandson.

It is a powerful book on grace.

This morning I read about how Tullian was kicked out of his home by his parents when he was 16.

To say he was a bit of a rebel is an understatement.

But he tells a story about how he used to wear earrings, and how it drove his parents crazy.

People then ask him, "Well, how did your grandparents respond? How did Billy and Ruth Graham treat you during your rebellious phase?"

This is what Tullian writes:

"They treated me exactly the opposite of how I deserved to be treated. 

For example, I wore earrings back in those days... It used to drive my parents nuts.

Every time my grandmother - Ruth Graham - came down to visit, she would bring me a fresh set of earrings to wear!

They were always funny.

At Christmastime, she would bring me ornament earrings and make me put them in and take a picture.

At Thanksgiving, she brought fork and knife earrings, and she took a picture.

She made light of it. 

She wasn't making fun of me.

She was saying, 'This isn't a big deal He's going to grow out of it.'

It may sound pretty trivial, but it meant the world to me.

Everyone else was on my case, and instead of giving me one more thing to rebel against, my grandparents drew me closer."

Beautiful...

How did Billy and Ruth Graham treat their rebellious grandson?

Exactly the opposite of how he deserved to be treated.

Meaning, they treated him like God treats all of us.

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?

 

I do know how to pay attention ...

I don't know exactly what a prayer is.


I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down


into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,


how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,


which is what I have been doing all day.


Tell me, what else should I have done?


Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?


Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

(Mary Oliver, 1935 - )

 

 

           
                                                                                       

  

The most dangerous thing ...

"The most dangerous thing that can happen to you is that you become proud of your own obedience."

(Tullian Tchividjian)

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!

Stretch our hearts ...

The years of all of us are short, our lives precarious.

Our days and nights go hurrying on, and there is scarcely time to do the little we might.

Yet we find time for bitterness, for petty treason and evasion.

What can we do to stretch our hearts enough to lose their littleness?

Here we are – all of us – all upon this planet, bound together in a common destiny, living our lives between the briefness of the daylight and the dark, kindred in this: each lighted by the same precarious, flickering flame of life, how does it happen that we are not kindred in all things else?

How strange and foolish are these walls of separation that divide us!


(A. Powell Davies, 1902 - 1957)

 



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?"