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!

 

What do you believe in?

As I listen to conversations between Christians, and as I pay attention to some of the arguments amongst Christian groups of various kinds played out for the world to see on social media (um, is this wise?) I have found myself wondering …

Do we believe more in our own beliefs than we do in Jesus?

It sure seems like we do.

Fighting over what we believe about women…

Fighting over what we believe about very specific doctrines…

Fighting over what we believe about sexuality…

Fighting over what we believe the true definition of “biblical” is…

Fighting over politics …

And the list goes on…

I have found myself wishing we did a bit more fighting over Jesus, to be honest.

Martin Luther nails it:

“Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your God, your functional savior.”

At times, you would think our beliefs have become our “god,” our “functional savior.” We cling to them more tightly than almost anything else … it seems our very faith hinges upon them. We seem to want to fight to the death for them.

Do we believe more in our own beliefs than we do in Jesus?

Do we?

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!

Worship ...

Tonight our A Way of Life class is discussing the chapter from the first manual on worship.

This reminded me that I have Mark Labberton’s book “The Dangerous Act of Worship: Living God’s Call to Justice” on my shelf. So I opened it up and started to read …

Whoa...

I am going to share some of his thoughts over the next few days.

Expect to be disturbed, but in a good way.

Labberton is the new President at Fuller Seminary and I have loved everything I have seen from him. He has a huge heart for Jesus, for the church, and for the radical demands of the Gospel.

Here are some of his opening thoughts:

“When worship is our response to the One who alone is worthy of it – Jesus – then our lives are on their way to being turned inside out. Every dimension of self-centered living becomes endangered as we come to share God’s self-giving heart.

Worship exposes our cultural and even spiritual complacency toward a world of suffering and injustice.

In Jesus Christ, we are called into a new kind of living. Through the grace of worship, God applies the necessary antidote to what we assume is merely human – our selfishness.

Worship sets us free from ourselves to be free for God and God’s purposes in the world.

The dangerous act of worshipping God in Jesus Christ necessarily draws us into the heart of God and sends us out to embody it, especially toward the poor, the forgotten and the oppressed.”

Well now … Do you think his definition of worship might be just a tad bigger than ours?

Stepping on toes ...

This is what I read today in Mark Labberton’s book, The Dangerous Act of Worship:

“At a worship service I attended a couple of years ago, my attention was drawn to the enthusiastic worship leader. He opened our time with prayer, asking God to meet us … Then he turned to face forward, standing just in front of the first row of worshipers with his eyes closed and the band playing. He lifted his hands to God and offered a joyful noise to the Lord.

That’s when I really took notice, for as he sang … he kept stepping all over the feet of the people behind him. Not just once or twice, but repeatedly … he kept ‘tromping in the Spirit.’  No apology. No sign of acknowledgement.

He was just praising God while oblivious to his neighbor.

This illustration metaphorically and practically depicts a significant part of our problem [with worship.]

I have no doubt the worship leader would say that what he was doing was unintentional … He was just so caught up in his own experience of worship that he lost track of others.

In worship, he lost his neighbor. That’s exactly the problem.

For all of our apparent passion about God, in the end, much of our worship seems to mostly be about us. We presume we can worship in a way that will find God but lose track of our neighbor.

Yet it was this very pattern in Israel’s worship life that brought God’s judgment.

Biblical worship that finds God will also find our neighbor.”

Have you ever thought about this?

Does your worship help you find your neighbor?

Or do you worship God, all the while figuratively stepping on your neighbor’s toes?

 

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?

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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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)

How much larger ...

"How much larger your life would be if your self could become smaller in it."

(GK Chesterton)

God writes the gospel ...

"God writes the gospel not in the Bible alone, but on trees and flowers and clouds and stars."

(Martin Luther)

What do you brood upon?

As the political season heats up in our country, it is good for American Christians to be reminded of our primary call to love.

There is no greater gauge of spiritual maturity.

There are no exceptions to the command.

Love is to be our primary calling card; the signature of Jesus on our lives.

When we choose hate instead of love, we become people who do not reflect the image of God to a watching world.

I like what Mary Renault wrote:

In hatred as in love, we grow like the thing we brood upon. What we loathe, we graft into our very soul.

(Mary Renault, 1905-1983)

What is the "thing you brood upon?"

Why not let it be Jesus? Brood upon him today... 

 
 

God is too good ...

"God is too good to be unkind,

and He is too wise to be mistaken.

When we cannot trace His hand,

we must trust His heart."

(Charles Spurgeon)

It doesn't have to be ...

Praying - by Mary Oliver

"It doesn't have to be

the blue iris, it could be

weeds in a vacant lot, or a few

small stones; just

pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don't try

to make them elaborate, this isn't

a contest, but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which

another voice may speak."

 

How simple and beautiful is that?

Just pay attention 

and patch a few words together 

knowing that silence is ok,

because it gives God space to speak.

Anyone can pray, if this is how we view prayer.

Why not start today?

 

When it's over ...

"When it's over, I want to say: all my life

I was a bride married to amazement.

I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it's over, I don't want to wonder

if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,

or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world."

(Mary Oliver - From her poem "When Death Comes")

It is not only prayer ...

"It is not only prayer that gives God glory,

but work.

Smiting on an anvil, sawing a beam, whitewashing a wall,

driving horses, sweeping, scouring --

everything gives God some glory if,

being in his grace,

you do it as your duty.

To go to communion worthily gives God great glory,

but to take food in thankfulness and temperance

gives him glory too.

To lift up the hands in prayer gives God glory,

but a man with a dung fork in his hand,

a woman with a slop pail give him glory too.

He is so great that all things give him glory if you mean they should.

So then, my brethren [and "sistren!"],

live."

(Gerard Manley Hopkins)

 

Listen to your life ...

"There is no event so commonplace but that God is present within it,

always hiddenly,

always leaving you room to recognize him or not to recognize him,

but all the more fascinatingly because of that,

all the more compellingly and hauntingly...

So, listen to your life.

See it for the fathomless mystery that it is.

In the boredom and the pain of it 

no less than in the excitement and gladness:

touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it

because in the last analysis

all moments are key moments,

and life itself is grace."

(Frederick Buechner)

 

This is the true joy ...

This is the true joy of life, the being used up for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one;
being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances,
complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.

                                                                             (George Bernard Shaw)

It's simple ...

So the other night some of us in the Shirey family were talking about the various imperfections of our bodies.

It was a fun/funny conversation.

In the midst of it, we talked a bit about trees, and how imperfect almost every tree is, and yet how we pay such little attention to their imperfections; we barely even notice them.

It reminded me of Thomas Merton's statment that has stuck with me for years:

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

I doubt if a tree spends very much time, if any, trying to "fix" their imperfections.

They just are... and even in their imperfection, they bring glory to God.

Listen to Mary Oliver's poem, "When I am Among the Trees:"

When I am among the trees,

especially the willows and the honey locust,

equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,

they give off such hints of gladness.

I would almost say they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,

in which I have goodness,

and discernment,

and never hurry through the world

but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves 

and call out, "Stay awhile."

The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, "It's simple," they say,

"and you too have come

into the world to do this,

to go easy,

to be filled with light,

and to shine."

 

Go easy, my imperfect, but glorious friends... be filled with God's light and just shine!