Week in the Word: Discovering Life as a Bundle of Blessings

I’m reposting a series of old messages for our devotional for a few weeks, because of busyness in my schedule related to graduate school.  I hope these messages touch and inspire you.

And I ain’t just whistling Dixie!

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

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Luke 2:22-40simeon and anna

22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,

you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31     which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”

33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.

native american nativity
This reading comes just a short time after the story of Christmas – roughly a week after Jesus is born to Mary, when his parents take him to the Temple, to celebrate his birth and for him to be blessed by the priests who are there. And blessed Jesus is! The old wizened priest Simeon falls down, amazed, to see this tiny child held in Mary’s arms. Anna, an old widow who has served God for years, has her heart leap for joy and cannot stop praising God for the wonder of this little one.

So often, coming after the Christmas celebration, such a story can be for us a way of thinking of how different and wonderful Jesus is. After all, he is the Son of God come to save us. This is a part of why Anna and Simeon turn from there quiet prayers to songs of praise and celebration.

But I cannot help myself from thinking of the joy surrounding seeing other babies blessed in the house of God – of seeing my little nephew Mark at my brother’s home church, when one Easter he awoke with a shriek of surprise as cold water fell on him at his baptism; of when Kat took oil and anointed my god-son Jordan, praying God’s blessing on his life, of when Rebecca and Christina’s god-son was blessed at the church earlier this year.

IMG_20111223_155806Though Jesus is unique – God the Son come to earth to save – in a way none else have, there is also a way that Jesus being greeted with these songs of praise when he is brought as a baby to blessed at the temple ought to awaken us to our own blessedness.

So often we can think we are so broken, so hurting, so weak, so sinful, that God is way up there and we are down here. But in Jesus, God showed us – God always comes to us as God with us, God entering into our life. The early Christians liked to say, that what God becomes, God heals.

And so in this little crying baby who is greeted by Anna and Simeon, God has come … in the flesh. In his crying, and his burping, and his diapers, God has come. In skin and bones, and blood beating in a tiny heart, God has come. In vulnerability, so vulnerable he cannot eat or walk without his mother nursing him or carrying him, God comes. In someone who must learn as we all did how to speak, how to crawl, how to walk, how to read, how to dress himself but until he does must have others do it for him, God comes. In Jesus God comes into every aspect of our lives, God comes as the innocent child, God comes as the toddler crawling on dusty floors, God comes as the little boy learning to play, God comes as the young man finding his way. God comes and blesses each of every aspect of our lives.

This means that there is not a part of your life or my life that is not holy in some way. Not a one of us are a mistake, but in a way very similar to Jesus, each of us have entered this world as promised children who can say with the Psalmist in Psalm 139,

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
How vast is the sum of them!

Master PotterEach of us are works of art, our lives canvasses upon which God can paint the most beautiful of pictures. Each of us are children of God and in us, as in Jesus, God can be made flesh in our lives by us choosing to take each moment that lies ahead of us as a place where we can encounter God and let God’s light shine through us.

In the next several weeks I hope in my sermon series to look at the way different aspects of Jesus’ life shed light on how our own lives can be places where we encounter God every day and also where we let God’s light shine through us in others. But what I want to challenge you with as we enter this time  is to embrace the fact that your life is special, that you are a unique child of God, and that you are someone in whom Christ’s light shines most beautifully.

That said, I want to conclude this reflection with the words of Christian writer Marianne Williamson, in her book

self acceptance 1

A  Return to Love, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful  beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Week in the Word: When Jesus Met a Gay Man

Due to papers and exams in my graduate classes aimed at becoming a pastoral counselor, I’m a little behind in putting together devotionals and southernism posts.   So the next few weeks, I’m going to post some oldies but goodies, some old sermons and posts I’ve shared before.

With the background of the end of Amendment One this week, I thought it would be wonderful to share a sermon I preached while I was pastoring in Blessed Family of God in Fayetteville, NC, as I began to become involved as a Christian pastor in the fight for equal rights with GLBT people.  At time of preaching this sermon, not only did DOMA and Amendment One still stand, but Don’t Ask Don’t Tell still held sway at Fort Bragg NC where many of the members of my church either were working or had previously worked as soldiers.

I hope it blesses you, and reminds you how far God has brought us!

And I ain’t just whistling Dixie!

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

2014-10-13 13.13.18

 

 

Our Gospel reading today comes from Luke 7

1 After he had finished speaking in the hearing of the people, he entered into Capernaum.    2 A certain centurion’s servant, who was dear to him, was sick and at the point of death.    3 When he heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and save his servant.    4 When they came to Jesus, they begged him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy for you to do this for him,   5 for he loves our nation, and he built our synagogue for us.”

6 Jesus went with them. When he was now not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to him, saying to him, “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I am not worthy for you to come under my roof.  7 Therefore I didn’t even think myself worthy to come to you; but say the word, and my servant will be healed.    8 For I also am a man placed under authority, having under myself soldiers. I tell this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.

9 When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turned and said to the multitude who followed him, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith, no, not in Israel.”    10 Those who were sent, returning to the house, found that the servant who had been sick was well.

These are the words of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

I want to begin my sermon today by reading an excerpt of a story about a young man named Josh Melo, taken from http://www.suicide.org/memorials/joshua-melo.html

“I had to cut my son down from the tree,” said John Melo, father of 15-year-old Joshua Melo, who died by suicide after being relentlessly bullied because some students thought that he was gay. “I told the kids at the funeral that if you don’t get together and confront the bullies, it will be your parents cutting you down. You guys have to stick together, stand up to the bullies, take away their power and they will back down. If you guys don’t do it, the system won’t.”

“All I could hear was John’s screams,” said Maria Melo, Joshua’s mother.”He came in like a madman. Joshua was already so stiff. John couldn’t pull him down. He was cold and John was hugging him. I started to scream.”

“[After Joshua was cut down from the tree], I just went outside and hugged him…I just hugged him,” Maria said. “I told the coroner that I needed time to hug and kiss Joshua before they took him away.”

John has since removed the tree. “The tree is already gone,” said Maria. “John cut it down and burned it.”

Joshua Melo was a sensitive, shy, polite, caring, talented, and intelligent 15-year-old 10th grader who attended Strathroy District Collegiate Institute in Strathroy, Ontario, Canada.

Joshua hanged himself on November 26, 2004; he was suffering from severe depression after enduring endless bullying because some bullies at the school believed that he was gay.

“Last Friday, Joshua couldn’t take it anymore and took his own life,” said John Melo. “Something went really bad and he just snapped. He couldn’t take it anymore. Joshua was the type of boy to bottle everything up inside and this had been going on for a long time…It’s more than heartbreaking.”

“He had been harassed daily,” said John. “He had been subjected to constant homophobic slurs.”

“Joshua couldn’t walk down the hall without someone laughing and teasing him,” said one student.

“It’s like they were trying to torture him,” said another student.

“This situation makes me sick, real sick,” said another student. “Joshua was a good guy. Many things have to change at our school. How could this have happened? How? This is horrible, and I think that the people who did this to Josh should be in jail. I am so sad about all of this.”

And another student said: “They hated Joshua because they said he was gay, so they called him every ‘gay hate name’ that they could. It just didn’t stop. They never left him alone. And now I know they are happy he’s dead.”

Last Saturday night Pastor Kat and I were blessed to represent our church and our community as the only two pastors at Fayetteville, NC’s Equality NC gathering, in support of civil rights for all Americans.  While there, the hosts of the event shared equally chilling tales from towns and neighborhoods in our own state in which young men and women felt so bullied and put down based on the fact their classmates – and, at times, their churches – thought they were gay that they too saw ending their own life their only options.  Many of these young teens – some who were young and gay, some just young and misunderstood – actually reached out for help from their schools, their families, and their churches and only found equally heart-breaking judgment.  In fact, studies have shown about one out of four gay teenagers attempt to take their own life because of the rejection at the hands of family, friends, and faith leaders.

I want to suggest to you that the experience of this centurion, who experiences Jesus healing his “servant who was dear to him”, is an experience that speaks volumes to all people who have felt like outcasts, especially to gay and lesbian people.

Who was this centurion?  What was his experience of Jesus, and why do I say it speaks to all outcasts, especially those made to feel like outcasts because of their sexuality?

I feel this centurion’s experience of Jesus speaks directly to the experience of those who feel like outcasts, especially gay and lesbian people, because despite his power and wealth this centurion was in many ways the ultimate outcast; because despite the centurion feeling he could not approach God due to being the sort of outcast he was, Jesus shows him that he is no outcast to God because God honors and accepts the fact that the centurion is reaching out to God even though no-one else does; and finally Jesus’ responses teach the centurion and us that being an outcast, even for being gay, cannot keep you from becoming a shining example of faith to others.

At first glance, without knowing the back-story to this encounter, we can wonder “how in the world could this centurion be an outcast?”  After all, he has power – the full power of the Roman empire behind him.   After all, he has wealth from Roman taxes in his pockets.  After all, when he speaks and acts, people have to listen.  And after all, doesn’t even the leader of the synagogue, who is a leader in the Jewish community, even respect him.

But often there is more to a person than the world sees, and someone who presents themselves as a happy smiling face, as a good straight-laced guy, whom the world looks at as “having it good”, isn’t.  The centurion is in fact a stranger in a strange land, an outcast in Israel. To begin with the centurion was the enemy and unwelcome among Jesus’ people.  The centurion was the soldier for the Romans, a foreign power that the people of Israel and Capernaum hated.  No doubt he heard cursing and insults muttered under the breath on every street he marched by local people, even though he knew he was just doing his job, defending his country.  Have any of you ever gotten the message from those around you that “your type” is unwelcome in their neighborhood, their job, their community because of your background – whether the place you were born, the color of your skin, your accent, or the person you loved?  I know many who have, including gay people, and feel this soldier’s experience speaks clearly to that.

What is more, he was outcast from his own faith.   The fact that this Roman soldier was so well-spoken of by the local synagogue leader but yet was not accepted into the synagogue itself shows that he was in a group of people known as “God-fearers”.  What was a God-fearer?

A God-fearer was an outcast.

God-fearers were individuals who had met Jewish people, who worshiped the God of the Bible, and become convinced the God of the Bible was real.  They had read its pages and seen its faith lived out.  They had become convinced that there was no God but the Creator of the universe, the one who thundered out the ten commandments on Mount Sinai.   This soldier had come to believe in and worship the God of the Bible, then, as a God-fearer.

But a God-fearer was also an outcast.  A God-fearer was one who had come to worship the God of the Bible, had tried to join the people of the Bible – at this point, the Jewish people – and been told your kind are not fully welcome here.   These were people who, for as many reasons as there are laws in the Old Testament, had been told they were not fit to join the faith of the Good Book.   Sometimes it was because they would not have the surgery of circumcision, sometimes it was because they had a job that got them in touch with people who made them too unclean to go to the temple.  And there were other reasons I will get to in a minute. But being a God-fearer, someone the synagogue leader respected and spoke up for, but also said “he is not a member here”, meant that this soldier when he tried to join the faith of Scripture, the faith of Israel, had been told “your type isn’t fully welcome here”.  So even in the realm of faith, when he opened his life to God, he was told he was not quite good enough to belong.  He was an outcast.

Have you, friend, ever been told your kind was not good enough to join the faith of the Bible?  I have known people who were told because they were divorced, because they were married to someone of a different race, because they were poor or homeless, and yes because they were gay that the faith of Scripture had no place for them.  Oh, how the centurion’s experience speaks to us today!

But there is something else about the centurion, something theologians have been trying to push into the closet for centuries, but now modern scholarship has begun to uncover: the centurion’s lover was a man.

Isn’t it interesting how carefully worded the description for his sick friend is placed in our modern translations: a “ certain centurion’s servant, who was dear to him”.  But even there the wording is clear: his dear servant, his dear companion.

You see in the Roman world it was outlawed from about 10 years before Jesus’ birth til about 150 AD for a Roman soldier to marry and have a wife and family while in the service.  The reason?  Because  than he would be divided and afraid of fighting on the battlefield.

But there was a way around this rule.  Soldiers were allowed to carry their personal slaves or servants with them wherever they went.  These kept up their homes, provided their meals, and provided what else was needed for their “master” but if they had any children, the army did not recognize them as the soldier’s and so no money needed to be set aside for them; and no apportionment of money could be justified for any “family” that was produced if their marriages were recognized.   So their expenses had to come out of the soldier’s own income.

So a man who wanted a wife would convince the woman he loved to get a job as his servant, and she would become his entemous doulah, his maid-servant who was dear to him”.  And everyone with a * wink wink * and a nod would acknowledge that she was his lover with that phrase.

But some soldiers – and many in fact – would go another route.  These, like Alexander the Great before them, were not interested in wives, but in –  for lack of a better phrase –  husbands.  And what would they do?  Well they would convince the man they fell in love with to become their man-servant.  And he would be called theirentemous doulos, their man-servant, or sometimes just “servant who was dear to him”.

You see this phrase in Luke was a tongue-in-cheek way of saying that the man who was sick and near death was in fact this soldier’s male lover.   That phrase, together with the Greek phrase pais or “beloved boy”, was known by all Greek-speakers to be like the phrase “partner” in American society.  Certainly it can mean someone you work with in business.  But it also can clearly mean someone you love, you share your life with, that is for all intents and purposes your spouse.

The fact this was no mere servant but this soldier’s beloved, his life-partner, the man who had his heart, is made even more clear in the Greek of Matthew 8, which calls this man not his doulos or servant but his pais, or “the boy he loves” which can literally be translated “boy-friend”.   Pais would have been understood by anyone who had to been to Greece as a term used for man’s long-term male romantic partner.

I think personally this relationship may very well have been the reason the leader of the synagogue who readily admits what a good man this soldier was, how much he loved God, and did in the community, could not in good conscience let the soldier move from being a God-fearer, still an outcast in the house of God, to a full member of the synagogue.  “Sure, centurion, you paid to build a synagogue, sure you  help the poor and needy, sure you read your Bible and pray, but not only are you a different race and a foreigner, but you are dating a man?  If I let you in, who knows what my synagogue members will do?”

So you see now that this man’s experience of Jesus speaks directly to the situation these young men and women I spoke of earlier have had, speaks directly to all outcasts, and speaks pointedly to other gay and lesbian men and women in all ages and times.

What did this experience teach us?  What can a real experience with the living Jesus speak to us, especially those of us who feel like outcasts cause of our background, our race, or the person we love?

The centurion’s experience of Jesus, I believe demonstrated to him that though in the eyes of the world he was an outcast, he was fully and completely accepted by God because God saw his heart was open to God.

To me it looks like the centurion actually had begun to begin the lies the world had thrown at him, the lie that he was somehow less than other people because of his race, because of his background, because he loved a man and not a woman.  I say this because the Gospel of Luke makes it clear that even though Matthew says the centurion begged Jesus, the centurion did not actually do it in person.  No, he did not feel worthy enough to go and approach Jesus, the Son of God, and ask for help – let alone for his life-time male lover.   I have been told all my life what a shame it is to be who I am; I must be shameful he must have thought.  No, he doesn’t even approach Jesus himself but has others go to Jesus for him.  He doesn’t feel worthy to talk to Jesus for himself.

How shocking it must have been for him that Jesus said immediately when he saw the love this man had for his life-partner, when he saw the faith this man had not only in God but in Jesus as God’s Son,  that he would come into his house.  But, wait, the man must have said to himself, how can the Son of God come into my house?  Though I love and long for God, I have been told all this time I don’t deserve to be fully a part of his family because of who I am and who I love.

Now, suddenly, he finds himself loved, accepted, and embraced by God not as from a distance, but as God’s own beloved child in whom God was well-pleased.  And Jesus not only says this in words but demonstrates it by healing the man this man loves by the power of God.

You know for years this man had kept his faith in God, even though he had been told he was not acceptable and probably told his love was dirty.  This man’s faith reminds me of the lyrics of a song by Boyzone I heard one year at a Pride event where I was ministering.  Listen with me to this song for a moment.

I believe, deep in his heart, this man chose even in the face of rejection by the people of God, to keep to his faith in God because like the singers of Boyzone, he knew if what he heard was true – if God really heard his prayers, one day he would hear from God  that it didn’t matter what people said, and who attacked, that God’s love for him was true and would last.

And now, in a moment, Jesus had declared it and he knew in God’s eyes he was fully accepted.

Friends I believe that this is what the God revealed in Jesus is saying to you, to me, to all the struggling children told because they are gay, because they are different, because they are “sissy” or “tomboys” or whatever that they are not good enough.  God is saying yes every prayer will be answered, yes every tear heard, and if you can just listen you will hear it doesn’t matter how they answer, it doesn’t matter how they attack, my love for you is true.  You – just as you are, not as others wish you to be – you, just as you are,  are my Beloved Child and in you I am well-pleased.

Friend, if we are truly his Body, isn’t that message – and not the message of rejection, the message that leads young men and women to think the noose and not the altar  of God is the place to find freedom – what we need to tell those young people?  And if we don’t, if we reject them, do we not also have their blood on our hands?

Finally, I want you to notice that not only does he discover that God accepts this centurion and his love as God’s very own – not despite his differences, but even including them – but actually discovers that he can become an example of faith to others.  A part of why he and his boy-friend aren’t fully welcomed by the synagogue and kept at a distance is the same reason gay couples often are told “you can’t be a member of the church”, because being a member means you can be a leader.  And being a leader means being an example of faith.  Culturally, this man’s life was “too wrong”, “too different”, for him to be an example to anybody in the eyes of that culture.  After all, who would want a foreigner, a person of a different race, a gay man in the military, to be their example of faith?

Jesus has the perfect opportunity to declare for all time that being gay is wrong, horrible, and sinful here if he felt that way.  In other accounts of healing, if someone is sinning Jesus turns to the person and says “go and sin no more”.  If this man had been sinning by loving who he did, Jesus would have said that to him.  He doesn’t.  Instead of doing that in this passage, Jesus actually holds this man up as an example that the “good upstanding Bible-believing” people who have excluded him need to imitate.  Notice how Jesus says … “I tell you, I have not found such great faith, no, not in Israel.”  I like how Matthew renders Jesus’ words in His account of the same events in Matthew 8:10-11– ““Most assuredly I tell you, I haven’t found so great a faith, not even in Israel.I tell you that many will come from the east and the west, and will sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the Kingdom of Heaven “

You see Jesus holds  this centurion up as an example of faith and even goes so far to say this man proves what Jesus has been saying all along: that God’s love isn’t limited to “Israel”, to people who fit the picture of good, religious, Bible-believing folks.   No people from all over – from East and West – have a place at God’s table and, if they reach out to God, will be welcomed.

Jesus’ words to this gay soldier suggest that what makes you different can be not a hindrance, but something holy.   Those very things others put down in you, if you give them over to God, can be a blessing to others.  And who you love can become a holy thing.  Yes, you can be a gay saint.  Yes, you can be not just a soldier but a Christian soldier.  And yes God can use the fact of you being who society calls “the wrong race,” “the foreigner,” “the outcast”as a blessing.  You are no mistake – God does not create any garbage.  You, just as you are, are God’s beloved child in whom God is well-pleased.

Tuning into the Sacred Song: Our Week in the Living Word

breath prayerOne of the spiritual practices I journal on is the practice of breath prayer. Breath prayer is a type of Christian prayer practice in which one uses the words of Scripture as a way of wakening a mindfulness to God, to yourself, to your world, and your life. Through meditation on your breath, and on the words of Scripture you push away the distractions and come to carve out a sabbath space, a place of rest in your busyness of life where you can more fully experience yourself and also God as present in, with, under, and through you.

Here are some marvelous websites offering an introduction to the practice of breath prayer:

http://tenwaystopray.com/home/breath-sophrony/practice/

http://www.soulshepherding.org/2011/12/breath-prayers-with-jesus/

http://www.thefellowship.info/Pray/Prayer-Practices/Breath-Prayer/

My own practice, since I think our spiritual life is deeper when grounded in community, is to select a verse from one of the readings of the Revised Common Lectionary, a set of weekly readings of Scriptures used in churches of all varieties of denominations to guide the preaching and worship planning for each week. This grounds my practice of breath prayer in a spiritual life wider than my own concerns: first to the wider spiritual life of the church where I worship, which uses the lectionary, and most importantly to the spiritual pilgrimage the Christian community throughout the world is going through each week.

bible_study_groupObviously the verse I share for breath prayer this week on my blog is from many weeks ago, so not in step with the specific week you read it today. I’d invite you to not just read the journal thoughts I’ve written but also to use this verse for your own week of prayer, joining me and joining the wider Christian community into a journey of deeper spirituality.

To help us on this journey, before I share my own journal of thoughts flowing from breath prayer I’d like to share the thoughts of Father Richard Rohr, whose spiritual reflections have deepened my own walk of faith.

From The Naked Now:

woman_praying1“The traditional and most universal word to describe a different access to truth was simply ‘to pray about something.’  But that lovely word ‘prayer’” has been so deadened by pious use and misuse that we now have to describe this different mental attitude with new words.  I am going to introduce a different word here, so you can perceive prayer in a fresh way, and perhaps appreciate what we mean by contemplation.  The word is ‘resonance.’  Prayer is actually setting out a tuning fork.  All you can really do in the spiritual life is get tuned to receive the always present message.  Once you are tuned, you will receive, and it has nothing to do with worthiness or the group you belong to, but only inner resonance and a capacity for mutuality. (Matthew 7:7-11)  The Sender is absolutely and always present and broadcasting; the only change is with the receiver station.

“Prayer is indeed the way to make contact with God/Ultimate Reality, but it is not an attempt to change God’s mind about us or about events.  Such attempts are what the secularists make fun of – and rightly so.  It is primarily about changing our mind so that things like infinity, mystery, and forgiveness can resound within us.  The small mind cannot see Great Things because the two are on two different frequencies or channels, as it were.  The Big Mind can know big things, but we must change channels.  Like will know like.

“Without prayer, the best you can do is know by comparison, calculation, and from the limited viewpoint of ‘you.’  Prayer, as very traditionally understood, knows reality in a totally different way.  Instead of presenting a guarded self to the moment, true prayer stops defending or promoting its ideas and feelings, lets go of any antagonistic attitudes or fears, and waits for, expects, and receives guidance from Another.  It offers itself ‘nakedly’ to the now, so that your inner and aroused lover can meet the Lover.  Now you surely see why you have to allow some major surgery in your own heart, mind, and eyes to even pray at all. (see Matthew 5:23-26)  Prayer is about changing you, not about changing God.

images-of-jesus-praying-to-godx“Most simply put, as we’ve seen, prayer is something that happens to you, (Romans 8:26-27), much more than anything you privately do.  It is an allowing of the Big Self more than an assertion of the small self.  Eventually you will find yourself preferring to say, ‘Prayer happened, and was there’ more than ‘I prayed today.’  All you know is that you are being led, being guided, being loved, being used, being prayed through – and you are no longer in the driver’s seat.  God stops being an object of attention like any other object in the world, and becomes at some level your own ‘I am.’  You start knowing through, with, and in Somebody Else.  Your little ‘I Am’ becomes ‘We Are.’  Please trust me on this.  It might be the most important thing I am saying …”

May these words inspire you into deeper openness to God as you join me in experiencing the living Word who is Christ present in the depths in, with, under, and through all of our lives.

And I ain’t just whistling Dixie.

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

redneckpreacher

I picked Psalm 138:8 from the lectionary for my breath prayer mindfulness meditation this week — “The LORD will fulfill God’s purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands”.

Day One.

hanging-by-a-threadFeelings of distress and concern about things out of control, people in my life in pain that I cannot help, and uncertainty about the future rise to the surface with these words.   I am drawn to the words “will fulfill God’s purpose” and “do not forsake the work of your hands”. I see people in my life whom I know are the work of God’s hands that I love immensely, yet whose bodies betray them. Their health hangs in the balance, like Jonathan Edward’s proverbial spider on a thread. Their health struggles stem from how their body was formed. I hurt to see them hurt, and I cannot but wonder at times: has God in fact begun forsaking the work of God’s hands? Will God let them fulfill their purpose? On better days it is clear: if God is love, as I have experienced God to be, than surely God’s love for them is not less than my own. It must be deeper and wider.   Yet it is hard to trust isn’t it? Hard to accept that others whom you love have their fates hanging in another’s hands? That is the life of faith, the only way forward: to trust, to cling to the promise and embrace the all-surrounding presence of love even in the moments of fear and darkness.

Also these lines connect with my own feelings of inadequacy and fear of being a failure. I’ve tried my best to try to serve God, to answer what I believe was God’s call on my life, yet often it has not worked out in the way I’d hoped or dreamed. When this happens, it is so easy to wonder if you are forsaken. And even the best of us, knowing in our heads it is not true and God will bring all things to the good if we continue to trust, struggle. Despite knowing these things, we still feel that insecurity and pain, having seen how fickle human love and friendship can be. Thank God that God’s love is without limit, a sea with no bottom, a grace without end.

Day 2.

FriendshiphelenkellerAs I enter into meditation, I feel the anxiety, fear, and uncertainty of many of the new opportunities in front of me. My fear of failure floats to the surface, as well as my deep helplessness about health crises a number in my family are facing. The line “steadfast love” grabs me, like a friend holding me close when I might otherwise fall. I notice my own fear. I fear that someone who promises to be there for me might let me down, a fear borne of hard experience. I hear the promise God has given of a love that is not shaken. I hear this is a commitment to me borne of love which will not be forgotten and dropped. I have to admit to have not known much love like this in my life, although there are some people who have truly lived out this faithful love. This love remains, ever faithful and true, as regular as sunshine in the morning or golden and crimson leaves falling in a southern autumn. I thank God for the reminder of this love, and for the glimpses of it I have seen in relationships that are dear to me.

Day 3

Beginning my meditation, I felt the many worries about things I have to get done at this transition in my life rise to the surface, making felt the many things I fear I cannot accomplish, and the oh so much that is simply out of my hands yet affects me and those I hold dear. I hear the words “the LORD will” and it resonates with my spirit. I am reminded that as much as I fear my own failure or my own inability to handle x, y, or z, I know that ultimately it is all in the Creator’s hands and God is able to navigate through these uncertain waters. Though I feel that I do not know where resources will come from for certain needs, I know that God is the one who brings water from the rocks and manna from the desert floor. I know that though, like Israel, I might need to cry out my feelings of anxiety, fear, hope, and despair, God is steadfast and will not forsake me. I pray for God’s hands to hold me up when my heart is trembling, feet unsteady. I pray for the ability to see this promise even when I do not fully see its outcome. I pray the same for you, too.

Day 4.

love wendell berryWhat stands out to me is the phrase “your love … endures forever”. I’m watching alot of things I felt were permanent in my life pass, including losing some folks who have been fixtures of my life.   I think there is a part of me in times like this one which feels the question “what is lasting?” almost palpably. People pass, and drift apart — from each other, from me, me from them.   So many things change and fade.   In times of transition my heart looks for what is steady to lean on. My meditation allowed my feelings of anxiety, loss, grief, to come to the surface. Yet it also reminded me that God is ever, always, reaching out arms of love to us. There is not a time that God is not near us, closer than the air that we breathe and the blood in our veins, God’s touch more intimate than the sun’s warmth on our face or the breeze in our hair. We are never alone, though times we feel it, alone in God’s presence and alone in a crowded room of family and friends, as much as alone on our porches, coffee in hand. This love is steady, constant as summer rain or spring breeze.

Day 5.

As I begin my time of meditation, feelings rise to the surface like oil upon water. My soul is soaked by feelings of oil on waterworthlessness. When I struggle with things I cannot control and feel out of my depth these show up, rising to the surface.   As I meditate, I feel these feelings rising through the silence, feelings rooted in my not yet finding work, rooted in my feelings of helplessness dealing with family health issues, rooted in my difficulty knowing how to help some people close to me with relationship problems.   Yet as I meditate on these words, I am reminded by them that I — and all of these situations — are in the Maker’s hands. I am reminded God’s word to me is always, ever, love and faithfulness. I am reminded the future and the present are not all up to me. I am reminded that God’s love is deeper than my own not just for myself but for those I hold dear.

I hear a voice whisper, “let go”. Letting go and trusting is never easy for me, but deep in my soul I whisper “I’ll try”. I hope as you struggle with whatever lies before you, you are able to rest in the knowledge you are held by the arms of love, the embrace of Father, Son, and mothering Holy Spirit for you.   Remember you are embraced and not alone.

Day 6.

hurricane in southMy uncertainties and fears about the future spun like a storm cloud around me as I began to meditate upon these words.   I realized as I did so that sometimes the thought of God having a purpose or a plan for me is tarnished by my experience of others with their plans for me, their ulterior motives, which ended up souring good relationships, leaving me feeling manipulated.   At times when I am fearful or uncertain, thinking in terms of God’s plans for me can get lumped together with these relationships which went sour.   Yet as I continued to meditate, these words rolled over me, each one being like the next part of a warm winter coat sliding over my arm, elbow, shoulder, until I felt covered enough for any blistering breeze.   I began to sense a nearness of love, and notice the words “steadfast love … endures forever.” I hear in that phrase the promise of not being forsaken. I was reminded God’s plans have no ulterior motives. They all are aimed at me being loved, as I am.   I was reminded that this is a promise not to be manipulated by another, but that I will never be forsaken. God’s plans for me are not contingent on me fitting another’s box, but wholly and completely a part of me being truly who I am. After all who I am is the work of God’s hands that God will not forsake. That is a word of encouragement and of peace in difficult times.

Day 7.

BroodySpirit3So often we experience love as fickle, knowing first hand the inconstancy of others and life.   Sometimes this inconstancy is so palpable. I feel it right now, like an ache in my bones, as I see people I care for struggle and am helpless in the face of their struggles to change them. While I face this helplessness, my old fears not only rear their heads but are strengthened by the heartache of actual loss, grief from friends who passed far too young, far too unexpectedly. During my meditations on this passage today, the words “will”, “steadfast”, “endure”, and “forever” stand out to me.   They are like the whisper of the Almighty in my ear, the sheltering wings of the mothering Holy Spirit about me, the promise “I will be with you always” of Christ upon ascension hill.   It is easy as we watch Christ alight on wings to glory to believe those words, and easy as the Almighty parts the sea to believe in his deliverance, and so easy when the mother Spirit falls like fire from heavens in divided tongues over our head to trust Her embrace.   Yet those promises only are meaningful when we wonder at Christ’s tarrying, when we wander through a desert time unsure of fresh water springs, when our experience of Spirit is groans and sighs beyond solace and beyond words.   My meditation reminds me that God’s love will never falter, never turn. God remains ever, always near at hand, even though not always visible or palpable. I am reminded that allowing fear of what may come, and regret of what has passed, to brighten my horizon with orangey hue of twilight haze will keep me from seeing the sparkling beauty of what is in this moment.   There is joy, love, beauty, and friendship alive, here, in this moment and in this place. There are friends new and old alive and at hand, and those who’ve passed are also alive and present in the Spirit with Christ, their love not ending.   There is love, romance, friendship, family, all near at hand too.   I hear the voice of the Spirit calling me in my meditations to embrace the joy of the moment, even when that joy comes in sorrow or struggle, and to trust in the embracing love of God for me and all whom I love.

Discovering a Life Transformed into Prayer: Our Week in the Psalms

8-1_tabernacle-entranceThis week our reflections come from the Psalms.   The Psalms are not just intended to be read. They are the prayers and songs of worship of Israel and, by extension, also of the church.   They were the prayers and hymns Jesus and the early Christians prayed, and which unite Jewish and Christian people of faith across the ages.  To rightly understand the Psalms we need to find ways to make them our own prayers.   Some people do this through praying them as their own words to God. Some do it through journaling, as I have done here, thoughts these psalms bring to mind. Some use breath prayer, a type of centering prayer which uses words of the Psalms as its focal point.

The power of the psalms is that they are not just heavenly minded, but very earthy. They remind us that the children of Abram worship a God willing to stoop down and be concerned about a small people caught in slavery and oppression.   For Christians they are a special reminder that we experience God as one who actually redeems us by entering into our lives. In Jesus we see God entering into the depth of human existence to show us God is available not just in heaven but in every nook and cranny of our own lives.

Ieveryday-life-21n his classic book The Source of Life Reformed theologian Jurgen Moltmann talks about the vision of life such a way of experiencing God brings about:

“God’s Spirit which makes us live does not merely free the soul from its miscarried love. It also liberates the body from its tensions and its poisons. The new spirituality comprehends the whole of life, not just the religious sides that used to be called ‘the life of faith’ or ‘prayer life’. The whole of life as it is lived is seized by God’s vital power and is lived ‘before God’, because it lives ‘out of God’.   What we call prayer in a one-sided way includes rejoicing and complaint before God, and lays before Go the life we live and suffer. Faith isn’t something special, cut off from everything else; it is the trust in life which finds utterance in all the ways in which we express life. This being so, we can also see this new spirituality as a new lifestyle…”

This call to discover all of life as the realm of the holy is the call of the Psalms. As you crack open your Bibles with me, I invite you to let the Psalms not just be dead words on the page but be words you come to experience and live out through lived practices of prayer. And let the earthiness of their words invite you to let your here and now life in this word become your prayer not just in your words but in your actions, relationships, your work, your friendships, your family life, and your relationship with those in your community.

What a difference a life fully lived in this earth can bring!

And I ain’t just whistling Dixie!

Your progressive redneck preacher,

Micah

micah pic

Psalm 97

burning_bushThis psalm was pretty terrifying to me as a little child, where it was a regular song of worship in my parent’s church which was a part of the Adventist “Church of God” tradition. Growing up in a church where sermons about Jesus as soon-coming King to judge the worlds often involved rich imagery of mountains melting in Jesus’ anger, seeing these images of mountains melting at God’s coming caused my heart to quake.   Reading them now, I know the Psalmist was not thinking of Jesus either in a first or a second coming. Instead the Psalmist probably had in mind when God appeared like fire over the mountain to the shepherd Moses. God did this first in a burning bush that was not consumed when God called Moses to preach, and later atop Sinai when God appeared in a pillar of flame to carve a covenant with the sons and daughters of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. What a different image is evoked from this Psalm with that background!

What I get from this Psalm today is not terrifying but humbling. God is more real, more permanent than the mountains upon which we meet God, whether they are the mountains of Sinai or Appalachia. God’s light is brighter than the sunlight which is but a dim morning mist by comparison. God’s presence is nearer than the air I breathe, closer than the blood pumping within my veins. These words remind me what is real. They invite me to imagine the idols of the world melting with the mountains beneath the shining brightness of the Lord, not because God is angry but because idols are exactly those things we cling to as permanent and solid when they are not.   All in our world will one day melt and fade, unless it is gathered up into eternal life by the resurrection God. On their own, they melt and fade to less than dust.

carolina sunriseI believe that God chooses to sweep up each person and creature that has lived upon God’s earth, and in God’s skies, into this new eternal resurrection life regardless of whether they appear good and beautiful in the world’s eyes. In that resurrection we will not need to fear losing ourselves each other, or the gifts of life, but instead seeing us and them transformed and gloried. But on our own and on their own, it is not so. Resurrection is a pure gift. And such a gift is from God, not from us.

Because of this, leaning on any earthly thing, earthly relationship, earthly philosophy, earthly religion, or earthly pursuit is leaning on sinking sand because as this Psalm reminds us without God they are sinking sand. They will let us down. When they fail us, as friends, jobs, family, and our own ingenuity will do, we naturally become angry. But when we feel that pain and anger we need to stop and hear its message. The heartache whispers truth to us. That pain and anger we feel in those moments is but a reminder. It whispers to us the fact that these things are not intended to be the solid foundation upon which we live. Not even Christianity and the church (or your religion, if you are not Christian) can do this. All of these are limited. Only God, as you find God in relationship with you, is so solid, real, and alive to ever and always be able to carry the load. And the amazing thing is this: when you learn to lean on God for your all and all, not fading contingent creations, it frees you to embrace all of those created things that will fail you if you treat them as a firm foundation. You can embrace the gifts they give while accepting their limits and vulnerabilities because you know each of them, like you, are flawed, limited, and in need of grace and strength from something greater than themselves to reach the goal. So by handing back whatever it is you’ve put in God’s place as an idol to God, you are freed to receive it back as a precious gift again you can get more joy out of.

Psalm 102.

gods handsGod is the source of the foundations of the earth. Science tells us the foundations of the earth are more than just the ground beneath our feet but also the gravity that holds it in place, the sunlight that flows from the sun it circles, and the binding forces that holds its atoms together. These elements make the solid ground on which we stand possible. But the Psalmist says they are less permanent than God. Again we are called by the Psalmist to embrace the impermanence and fading nature of those things on which we want to bank our hopes and which we feel cannot be shaken.

It is hard to accept that things that ought, in every human sense, to be steady as granite instead are as flimsy as Mica which sheds from the side of the mountain at a finger’s touch shiny and thin like paper. I fight this word whenever I am reminded it. It is easier to imagine that the things I see about me, the people I know, and my own will power can be solid ground. They can in fact sometimes be something to lean on, but without the abiding presence of the One who makes space for all things within the all-embracing Spirit, we would not have them. And whereas they will fail you, Psalm 102 reminds us that God will not.

mica flakingAlso there is a language here of God relating to us with hospitality and generosity. God’s laying foundations is also about God making space and time for creatures like you and me whom God can welcome as children and friends to grow, thrive, choose, create, and be.   We often fail to recognize that God’s creation of you and me, and our world, is in fact an act of hospitality and generosity. God makes room in God’s self for others, room for you and me, in such a way we are free to love, to turn our backs, to cooperate with God, to fight against God.

Ultimately early Christians looked at the purpose of such hospitality and generosity as being so that God was making room and space for all of us within the love relationship God had always enjoyed as Father, Son, and mothering Holy Spirit. In some mysterious way God made what is so you and I might join in that unending dance they ever share in, that embrace of love that is eternal, in the life of God itself.   It’s a great mystery, but also a reminder that even when we feel neglected, abandoned, forgotten, we are not so by God.   It also includes a challenge for us to strive to embody that divine hospitality and generosity in our life and our life together.

BlackbeardPsalm 105 invites us to search and seek for our God. This is an unusual image for the spiritual life. It I almost as if the Psalmist has suggested God has hidden God’s self in this worldlike the pirate treasure I grew up hearing tales of being buried in the sands along Carolina beach. This image for the spiritual life reminds me of the early Christian saying, attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas: “I am the all. Split a log, and I am there. Lift a stone, and you will find me. ” When God is not evident to us, it is not that God is not there. God is after all the life force animating all things, the love that binds us together, the ground of our being, the source of our strength and comfort. There is no place that one could truly be hid from this reality. However we allow stress, worry, the busyness of life, our pain, messages of despair from the world around us to cloud our vision so we shut the eyes of our heart. God is always, ever, hiding in plain sight. Searching and seeking for our God in the way this Psalm talks about us doing in the treasurespiritual life is about slowing down from the busyness, so we awaken ourselves to this present moment. In this moment, in this place, God is present. All the grace that is needed for me to move forward that next step I must move is already here. For me prayer and meditation – whether that is meditation in silence, on Scripture, with nature, or even on the events of my day — all give me space to open up to that of God which is already present. For all of us, whatever spiritual practices we claim as our tools for this treasure hunt, this spiritual journey is a daily seeking, without which we lose sight of God as God is already present, embracing us and each moment

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Psalm 107:33-35, 41-43.

break_chainHear the promise. God in our past has moved rivers, shook nations, to set free the oppressed, and deliver the poor and needy ones.   We see this not just in the history of Israel but also the fall of apartheid, and the Civil rights movement in our day.   The promise is God is still the same, still on the side of the oppressed, the poor, and the needy.   When you feel abandoned, this verse is a challenge to remember how God has already worked deliverance in your life. What rivers has God moved, what things has God shaken, for your freedom to come to you?

This Psalm is also a call to embrace the promise God is still doing that for you.   I think it also is a challenge. When as a society we face situations like Ferguson, like faced in the Middle East today, like the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, like homophobia and homophobia, who are the oppressed?   And where is God at work for them? Too often we take these promises just personally, forgetting this word of promise and challenge is to us a society. The promise is if we are either those oppressed, or those at work against oppression, that just as God moved in freeing a nation of slaves from the greatest empire in the world, Egypt; just as God worked to free people of color from Jim Crow and apartheid, so God is at work in hands, voices, and even tweets to set those oppressed free today. And though the night might be long, the tears of the present fall like sheets of summer rain, God will bring liberation as sure as the morning sun will rise again.   Yet it is also a word of challenge. There is a wrong side to history — the side of oppressing others. We are called by this verse to weigh our souls to discover in what ways we prop up systems of oppression out of our own desire for our convenience, or even our own laziness and apathy. Not a one is wholly guilty, nor a one wholly innocent of this failing.   Yet as we learn to look for and listen for God in our histories personally of liberation from oppression and also those of our community at large, we can learn to lift our eyes and see where God is at work to join God there.

quote-there-is-a-loftier-ambition-than-merely-to-stand-high-in-the-world-it-is-to-stoop-down-and-lift-henry-van-dyke-54813Psalm 113:4-7 introduces me to a whole new name for God: God the stooper. I was always told growing up, “don’t stoop, don’t slouch”. Yet our God is the stooper. We are invited here to envision God high and lifted up, seeing the grand scheme of history and creation like a man on a tower seeing the great landscape, like a woman in a plane looking down and seeing the whole nation at one glance. Yet we are told God is not content to sit, high and lifted up, exalted over us. No, God is a stooper, stooping down to us. God leans down reaching into our brokenness and our pain, in order to lift us up. This is true for every one of us. God became one of us, bearing our pain, guilt, and sorrow to raise us up to share in God’s life, goodness, friendship, and life eternal. This message is for all of us, but it has special significance for how God raises up the oppressed: the slave people of Egypt, under Egyptian imperial thumb; oppressed slaves in America a few generations ago; the people of color in South Africa under apartheid. The Holy Spirit comes down into the shared experience of heartache as the heart’s cry to deliver and is the voice and the cry of liberation and peace.   Thank God that we serve a stooper!   Thank God that God hears our heart cries!

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Mother_and_Child_by_senseibushidoPsalm 116:14-17 is an interesting prayer to pray “I am you servant and the child of your handmaid”.   For some of us it is easy to see our earthly mother as a handmaid of the Lord than others. Some of us experienced our earthly mother as the one in our life who expressed faith, spirituality, values, and taught us the way of Christ. For others, our mother may have been absent, inconstant, or abusive, so to speak of her as one who served and represents Christ is hard to do. For someone like that, this prayer can be hard. It can be hard to see Christ in someone who is absent, inconstant, or abusive.   For many of us, such a prayer is complicated because we can see both in our earthly mothers.   This prayer of Scripture invites us to meditate both on how our mothers did and did not live out this image of “handmaid” of the Lord.

Another complication of this image is that in our culture I think “handmaid” implies a place of quiet service, where one is seen and not heard. For me, some of the most powerful lessons my mother taught me about what it means to follow Christ were where she was not the quiet, soft-spoken person who simply accepted life. I think of when she returned to graduate school and sought her dream of working with special needs children. In times like this she discovered in God her own strength and power, and lived boldly in faith & cnew image of motherhoodonfidence.   It is important to remember that handmaidens of the Lord include not just quiet women but also Deborah who led the armies of Israel into battle, Rahab the harlot who helped shelter the spies of Israel, Tamar who used her worldly wisdom to prove publicly the injustice she endured so justice might be served, Ruth & Esther who used their wisdom and beauty to outwit the patriarchy of the day to help their family and their people be saved from disaster, and Judith who was a mighty warrior of God.   In history hand-maidens of the Lord included Sojourner Truth prophet of abolition of slavery and women’s equality who boldly proclaimed in a world that said “women be silent” that God could turn the world right side up by the hand of a woman and “ain’t I a woman?” Handmaidens of the Lord include women like Joan of Arc who led the armies of her people to freedom and women like Corrie Ten Boon who sheltered Jews who were hated and hunted by the NAZIs. Being a hand-maiden of the Lord is to be a woman who is a co-creator, fellow worker with God in helping set right the world in the ways it is broken.

tribal_drawing___mother_and_child_by_portraitsbyhand-d5s8kecAnother meaning to me of this prayer “I am a child of your handmaid” is a reference to Jesus. Mary says to Gabriel to let it be as he has said, for she will be God’s servant or handmaid.   In that “yes” Jesus is able to be born of Spirit into this world.   This prayer is a reminder, as Sojourner Truth is remembered for saying, of the power of one woman to turn the world aright for choosing to let her unique power as a woman to be a co-creator with God foster new life to enter our world, new life that changes the course of all of human life, and all of creation.   It also is a reminder to us that our Savior, Jesus, was born, burped, fed, raised, and taught by a woman. Whenever Jesus prayed this prayer, He too was taking time to recognize the mother who raised Him, just as we recognize our own mothers and all women of faith who have shaped us when we pray these words. Jesus acknowledged as we can His own humanity, weakness, and frailty. Jesus has been there, where we are, and identifies.

mother with baby in lead sunsetI think a way to hear “I am a child of your handmaid” is also to hear it in a different way. Galatians calls the community of faith “Jerusalem above, our mother”. There is a sense in which praying this prayer is to recognize one’s self as a child of this spiritual mother.   We can think of the women of faith who modeled for us the life of Christ, taught us the words of Christ, and challenged us prophetically on our short-sightedness. We can hear their voices, whether they are living on this earth or have risen beyond this veil of tears into the glory prepared for them after death already. We can remember their examples and lessons.

Of course, as Augustine once said, “the church is a whore but she is our mother”. Recognizing ourselves as children of handmaiden church means recognizing the ways the church has nurtured us, loved us, taught us, modeled for us right but it is also, as with our earthly mothers, learning from the ways it has failed. As a mother may fail to love perfectly, so the community of faith often loves imperfectly. Sadly I have sat many a long hour hearing the stories of people who are Christian, as well as from other faiths, sharing how they experienced abuse at the hands of the church, how they experienced being belittled and pushed out at times for their sexuality, ostracized at times for their education, and mocked at times for not fitting the picture that their faith stereotyped as beautiful and good.   I too have experienced the heartache from times when the community of faith is not the parent it should be. From this experience we can learn how we can better mother and father others in their faith. We can learn the lesson of laying prejudice, unfair expectations, legalism, judgmentalism, and whatever caused us heartache at the altar of God to be given up so that we may truly model love.

eskimo-mother-and-child-john-keatonA final helpful meaning for me of this prayer “I am a child of your handmaid” is to recognize God the Holy Spirit as a mother figure for us. In Scripture, the Holy Spirit is repeatedly likened to a mother. In Genesis, the Holy Spirit is depicted as brooding over the waters of creation and chaos as a mother bird brooding over her nest of eggs as she waits for them to hatch. In Hebrew, the word for Spirit is feminine, and in the Psalms again and again maternal language is used for the way the Spirit relates to us — taking us under Her wings, like a mother hen her chicks. In the Gospels the Spirit comes upon Jesus hovering over him like a mother dove brooding over her babies. And throughout the Bible, labor pains are an image for the work the Holy Spirit does within us and all living things, as the Spirit attempts to transform our pain, our sinful paths, our social failings, into places new life and healing is borne.

Seeing the Holy Spirit as our mother and the mother of all living has for me been a helpful way to pray this prayer. It allows me to embrace all the positive models of motherhood and womanhood I encounter as symbols for the ultimate love, care, and strength expressed in all living things by the Holy Spirit while also acknowledging the many ways each motherly figure I have known has failed to perfectly live out that love.  The motherly love and care I do know through these mothering figures is a work of the Holy Spirit in my life through them. Even when no human mothering figure is present, I can experience God mothering me in the embracing arms of God the Holy Spriit. I can hope through the Spirit that all of us can learn more fully to express the Spirit’s love for all people, for ourselves, and all of creation, as we learn to cooperate with the Spirit’s work in the world.

How do you experience and know God through this prayer to God as a child of the Lord’s handmaid? Who has been the handmaiden of the Lord in your life?

sunrise freedomPsalm 124 is a reminder that all deliverance, liberation, freedom, and fullness of life is a gift of the Creator God. Our Creator is our Liberator, our life-giver, our guide in life.   We are challenged to not just accept our deliverance from addiction, affliction, oppression by others, or mistreatment. We are challenged not to simply enjoy the gifts of a full life, of meaning, of hope, of inspiration. We are challenged not to just relax with friends and family. We are challenged also to take time to thank God for each of these gifts each day. How have you experienced God as your liberator? As your giver of life, even in the fact of certain death? I invite to you add a comment sharing your experience.