How can they know?

Every time there is a tragedy, a Christian leader feels obligated to tell us all what God is doing.

To announce to the world what God is saying through this catastrophe.

They even deign to tell us what God is thinking, what is motivating God to allow the destruction.

And every time this happens, I feel extremely uncomfortable.

I listen ...

I ponder ...

And I wonder:

How does this person know what God is doing?

How do they know what God is saying?

How  do they know what God is thinking?

Here's the truth -- THEY DON'T KNOW.

They don't.

But they are pretending they do. It feels powerful. It feels authoritative -- superior, even.

The apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 8:2:

Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much.

So, when you hear someone start to pontificate about what God is doing, thinking or saying through this current pandemic, be wary. 

God is a great Mystery.

God's ways are beyond our ways; God's thoughts beyond our thoughts.

When great tragedy strikes, we must refrain from making pronouncements about God.

Instead, we must remember that God is doing what God has always been doing --

Drawing people to himself in love and grace. 

Commanding us to show love for him by showing love to our neighbor, especially our poor, marginalized and down-trodden neighbor.

Weeping alongside us -- over the destruction, the sickness, the pain, the callousness of the powerful.

One thing we can know, no matter the time or season --

God is with us.

God is with us.

God is with us.

And if that is all we know, it is enough.

There is much we cannot control ...

I read a great article by Gregory Hillis called "We're All Monks Now," which contained a helpful nugget of wisdom for me this week.

Hillis writes:

" ... it is admittedly difficult to focus on the spiritual life in the midst of the anxiety so many of us feel right now. The monks I spoke with acknowledged this, but at the same time they suggested that we can use this moment to live into and be freed by the realization that there is much we cannot control.

So much of our anxiety revolves around wanting to control the uncontrollable, and the pandemic can teach us the futility of this.

According to Father Mark, we need to be attentive to the present moment and so focus on that which we can control:

'If I can concentrate on being in control of that very small circle of reality that is entrusted to me and in some sense depends on me -- how I use my time, how I take care of myself, how I care for my family and friends, how I daily and hourly turn my concerns over to God -- then my anxiety diminishes.'

I wonder if some of the exhaustion I am experiencing stems from a constant feeling of being out of control,

of being bombarded with anxiety-provoking news about sickness and unemployment and hunger and strife,

most of which I can do nothing about.

I wonder if trying to attend to all of that is futile and what the Bible calls "chasing after the wind."

I wonder if I should shrink my span of concern, while at the same time expanding my circle of prayer?

Focus on what I can control, which is not much.

Practice lifting up to God all that God can control, which is pretty much everything.

I wonder if that is the set of practices called for right now?

Get my face out in that sunshine, support the local Food Bank, check on a neighbor, call my mom, plan a nice dinner, feel the spring breeze on my face, pray for those in need, clean out the kitchen sink, go to bed early in freshly washed sheets ...

Control the tiny bit I can control. 

Give to God what is God's.

We're all monks now ...

Everything takes longer ...

It's Monday.

I think it is the 5th or 6th Monday since we shut down our country and I am still not in any kind of groove with my life.

One thing I am noticing: Everything takes longer.

Take grocery shopping, for instance.

What I would usually do in a quick hour or two took my entire morning today.

Washing my hands, masking up, planning our list, wiping off the cart, trying to get the plastic vegetable bags to open without licking my fingers (so MANY MINUTES!), attempting and failing to follow the arrows on the floor of the grocery aisles, swerving to stay 6 feet apart from other shoppers, pondering whether or not I should really buy an item, waiting for the very kind check-out person to completely spray down the little conveyer belt, packing up the car, returning the cart to a new location so it can be disinfected, spraying hand sanitizer on my hands, driving home and carefully unloading it all, careful to wash down the produce extra well ...

I looked up and it was well after noon!

I was upset with myself for not being more efficient!

I internally berated myself for being slow, sluggish, behind ...

It wasn't until I was able to sit down at my desk and take a breath that I came to my senses.

This is not about me.

This is not about something internally wrong or deficient with me.

This is about a new normal and about doing things in such a way that I protect my neighbor and myself.

So I whispered:

"It is ok."

You are not behind.

You have nowhere to go anyway.

No one is judging you.

Everyone else is working too hard to judge you.

This is not your fault.

Slow down ... breathe ... relax. 

You did as well as you could do.

It is ok."

Wondering if any of you need to whisper these same words to yourself right now?

About schooling your own kiddos?

About too many Zoom meetings?

About dealing with an overly full, or an overly empty, home?

About doing errands that take six hours as opposed to one?

Where do you need to treat yourself with kindness and compassion?

Where might you need to speak to yourself as if you were an exhausted child or a dear friend?

Sit down.

Take a deep breath.

Relax your shoulders.

Everything takes longer right now.

Whisper to yourself:

"It is ok. You are ok. You are doing the best you can."

Hugs from me to you.

 

A God of abundance ...

the end of our little journey through psalm 23

You drench my head with oil; my cup overflows the brim.

Surely goodness and kindness will accompany me all the days of my life

and I will dwell in the house of the Holy for the length of my days.

Three final lines of this beautiful Psalm,

one expressing abundance,

one accompaniment,

and one the sense of being at home.

Let's look at the first of the three:

To place oil on one's head, during the time of the Psalmist,

is a sign, a symbol of God's anointing, God's favor, God's presence and power.

King David says that God "drenches his head with oil."

This to me is a picture of abundance.

To add to this, David adds the image of having his cup overflow ...

Isn't that beautiful?

God is a God of much-ness. 

He is not stingy with his presence, his power, his favor.

He is a God who drenches with blessing.

A God who pours his goodness into the cup of our lives until it "overflows the brim."

Watch for this in your life today - where is your cup overflowing the brim?

Second line:

David is confident, even though he is walking through the valley, overshadowed by death,

that God's goodness and kindness have not left him.

These two things accompany him every single day he lives.

I picture my mom accompanying my son when he played his violin in his grade school talent show. Her strong, steady hands on the piano while he fiddled away on his pint-sized violin, her eyes never leaving his presence. When he slowed down, so did she. When he sped up, she did, too. When he got lost or confused, she led the way.

God's kindness and goodness accompany us through all the days of our life - the slow days, the days we trip over the notes, the days we speed through.

These two essential things - kindness and goodness - never leave us.

Watch for these two things in your life today. Where do you see kindness? Where do you experience goodness?

And the final line:

We can be "at home" with God for the length of our days.

All of creation is the house of God.

David is not talking about a church or a temple or a synagogue or some kind of set-apart location.

He is saying, no matter where we go, no matter where life plunks us, we can be "at home" with God.

And maybe, in the end, this is enough.

Acknowledge today that no matter where you are, you can be at home with God.

 

If you ever feel unworthy ...

If you ever feel unworthy ...

If you question whether or not God can love you ...

If your guilt and shame ever overwhelm you ...

If you wonder if God turns his face away ...

Please remember

that Jesus washed the feet of Judas,

the dirty, filthy, betraying feet of the one who would turn him in.

Please remember

that Jesus gave the bread and the wine

his body, his blood,

to Peter,

the fearful, denying, hiding "friend,"

the one who confessed to a servant girl,

"I do not know the man."

Jesus washed the feet of Judas.

Jesus gave his body and blood to cover Peter's cowardly denial.

Jesus loved even them.

Jesus loves even you.

Jesus loves even me.

Why is my heart so sad?

Can I be honest for a moment?

I am struggling today ...

My motivation is low.

I have had a hard time sleeping.

Anxiety lurks just below the surface.

I miss the normal rhythm of my days, my weeks, my life. It anchored me.

I miss my friends and family.

I miss meals with my extended family.

I miss casual conversations with neighbors at the grocery store.

I worry about our country, our world.

I am finding it hard to frame up my day in a way that feels satisfying.

Everything feels "off" and disconnected somehow.

I try to regroup, I try to reframe my goals, I try to find gratitude for the small things.

I understand how fortunate I am to be "stuck" at home and not forced to be out, forced to work a dangerous job, forced to work while sick. For these things, I am truly grateful.

But you know what?

This is still hard.

I still feel sad.

I feel unmoored. 

Uncentered.

Unfocused.

Sometimes, even a little bit unhinged.

It helps me to know that sometimes King David felt the same way I feel. 

In Psalm 43 he cries:

Why am I discouraged?

Why is my heart so sad?

I know, David, I know!

Why?

It is ok to ask these questions. It is ok to feel these feelings.

It is ok ...

But there is a bit of grabbing ourselves by the collar that needs to happen.

At least it does for me.

I can immerse myself in the sadness, the discouragement, the concern, for just a little bit.

I can acknowledge what I am feeling.

I can be honest with myself and others.

And then ...

I take myself by the collar and I say, along with King David:

I will put my hope in God!

I will praise him again— my Savior and my God!

And I will put some music on,

I will call a friend,

I will e-mail a lonely relative,

I will take all my concerns to God.

I will walk the dog.

I will put a pot of beans on the stove.

And I will face this day with hope, gratitude, praise and fortitude.

God is near.

God is always near.

Our daily strength ...

A Pandemic Prayer - by Nadia Bolz-Weber

Dear God,

Some of us are exhausted by a constant stream of bad news.

Some of us are exhausted from the effort of trying to not freak out.

Some of us are exhausted by not knowing how we will pay rent.

Some of us are exhausted from the effort of trying to entertain and educate and feed and love children who are stuck at home.

Some of us are exhausted by the 13 hour shifts in a hospital we no longer recognize, working a job we are afraid might kill us.

Some of us showed up to this pandemic with pre-existing physical and mental health conditions that were already exhausting.

Some of us are exhausted by loneliness.

Some of us are exhausted by waiting so long for a new season of Succession.

And some of us are exhausted by the effort of trying to make this all ok for everyone else.

Life is so strained and tender right now.

I know that not a single one of us is promised another day, God.

But I guess I am asking for the strength for just the one we are in.

Give us today our daily strength.

Strength for today, and if you could spare it, bright hope for tomorrow.

AMEN.

ps- HOSANNA in the highest

You spread a table before me ...

a little journey through psalm 23: part 4

You spread a table before me

in the face of my greatest fears.

Oh my, isn't that a lovely image?

In the midst of our greatest fears (death, sickness, economic distress?)

our Good Shepherd spreads a table before us.

Reminds me of when I was a little girl

and was home sick from school,

my mom would make a nest for me on our sofa

and would pull the piano bench over next to me,

drape it with a soft towel

and "spread a table before me."

Chicken noodle soup from the can,

white toast spread with real butter,

mandarin oranges or canned peaches.

7-up with a straw.

It felt like a feast because it was served with such love and care.

This is the image, I believe, 

that King David was trying to flesh out for us.

God is like a mom or a dad, a caregiver for us, his sheep.

And when we are scared - deep-down scared - 

God not only protects us, but he feeds us

with the tender love of a mama,

the fierce love of a papa.

When we are scared these days

maybe a little chicken noodle soup

is what's called for?

 

 

Is there an angel in the house?

"Is there an angel in the house?
If there is,
come to me…
and if you aren't too tired,
or otherwise occupied,
and if it isn't too tacky a request,
please rock me.
I am bruised.
If you will hold me until morning,
I promise I will rise and light the fire
and break the bread and put back on my shoulder
my corner of the world.
But for now I could use the shelter of a wing.
Excuse me,
Excuse me,
is there an angel in the house?"

 (Pat Schneider, b. 1934)