A Beginner’s Prayer for Holy Thursday

Holy WeekHoly Thursday 2013.  I invited (dragged?) my now-husband, then-boyfriend to Mass without dinner.  The liturgy, full of chanting and processing, took three hours.  An argument, fueled by two, tired, angry, hungry people ensued.

With that memory in mind, I put together the Catholic Cliff Notes version of Holy Thursday.  If you’re attending a service this evening, it will help you navigate the liturgy. If not, it will help you commemorate this holy day on your own.  I invite you not just to read it, but to pray it.  I hope that the guide below will help you experience and appreciate Holy Thursday.  

Good and gracious God, send your spirit down upon me.  Quiet my heart and mind to hear your voice, see your movement, and feel your presence.  May your scriptures reveal to me your most perfect person and plan for our salvation.

  • The Institution of the Eucharist

While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat, this is my body.”  Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:26-28; NRSV)

  • The Institution of the Priesthood

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.  Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.  He came to Simon Peter, who said to him. “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”  Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”  Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.”  Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”  Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”  Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean.  And you are clean, though not all of you.”  For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you?  You call me Teacher and Lord – and you are right, for that is what I am.  So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” (John 13:3-15; NRSV)

  • The Announcement of the New Commandment

Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35; NRSV)

  • Jesus’ Prayer in the Garden

They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”  He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated.  And he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.”  And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him.  He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep?  Could you not keep awake one hour?  Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”  And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words.  And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him.  He came a third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest?  Enough!  The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.  Get up, let us be going.  See, my betrayer is at hand.” (Mark 14:32-42; NRSV)

If time permits, meditate with this Taize chant, or journal your reflections. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s7GexIvX8HU

We praise you, Lord, for your infinite grace.  In becoming human, you experienced the incredible joys and pains of this life and this world.  We thank you, Lord, for saving and shepherding your people.  Please be with us throughout this Holy Week.  Help us to better know and appreciate your dying on the cross, so that we may better know and appreciate your rising from the tomb.

How To Have a Last-Minute Lent

How To Have A Last-Minute Lent_1I’ve been there; we’ve all been there.  

First, the candy starts appearing in the convenience and grocery stores.  The bulbous Reese’s Eggs and the shimmering Yellow Peeps.

People start making plans for Spring Break.  Road trips to the beach or the nearby amusement park.

March Madness comes and goes.  Baseball season begins.

The sun returns; the leaves re-appear; your winter coat gets packed away.

Then, one Sunday, you arrive at church to find everyone holding palms and the pastor talking about extra parking for the holiday services.

Easter is right around the corner.  

And, you didn’t even see it coming.

Such is life.  It gets busy.  You really did mean to prepare for Easter thoughtfully and faithfully.  You just didn’t get around to it.

It’s okay.  I’ve been there.  We’ve all been there.

And, the good news is: you haven’t missed it yet!  You’ve still got time!

How To Have A Last-Minute Lent_2So, how can you make the most of the next few days?  How can you prepare to truly experience the beauty of the Last Supper, the sorrow of Good Friday, and the joy of the Resurrection?

1. Give Up Something You Love.

Intentional sacrifice reminds us how deeply we need and desire Christ.  I gave up desserts for Lent this year, and I am looking forward to Easter with all of my physical senses.  Its sweet scent.  Its cool texture.  The colorful sprinkles.  I’m desiring the Resurrection in spirit and body.

Since there isn’t too much time before Easter, consider giving up something you enjoy routinely.  Like meat or bread or alcohol or coffee.  Give up something you consume regularly, and you’ll be craving Easter asap.

2. Give Away Something You Want to Keep.

Almsgiving has long been part of the Lenten tradition.  Instead of giving a monetary donation or doing volunteer work, consider giving away something you really like. When we feel the pain of sacrifice, we better appreciate Christ’s costly sacrifice for us.

Some possible ideas:

  • Donate one of your favorite pieces of clothing to Goodwill.
  • Give one of your favorite mugs or books to a friend who is struggling right now.
  • Buy a snack or coffee for a friend or colleague with whom you’re struggle right now.
  • Grant forgiveness to someone from whom you’ve been refusing it.
  • Intentionally give your sins to Christ.

3. Read the Scriptures Surrounding Easter.

Each of the Gospel writers has an account of the events surrounding Easter.  Consider starting with the Preparations for Passover and continuing through the Resurrection.

  • Matthew 26-28
  • Mark 14-16
  • Luke 22-24:12
  • John 13; 17-20:18

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4. Attend an Additional Church Service.

The Resurrection on Sunday is only one part of the Easter story.  Many Protestant churches commemorate the Passion with a Good Friday service sometime between noon and three.  Some churches even present Living Stations.  Most Catholic churches also have special services on Thursday and Friday evening to mark the Last Supper and Good Friday.  

If you can’t make it to a church service, consider watching DreamWorks’ The Prince of Egypt or Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ.  I’ll also be sharing a reflection here next week for Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.

5. Listen to Christian Music.

The background noises in our lives affect us in profound ways.  Try tuning into Christian music to keep your mind and heart oriented toward Christ.  I recommend checking out Gungor, Run River North, Emeli Sandí, or Punch Brothers.  Not all of these artists are “Christian” per se, but their songs delve into the spiritual themes.

6. Listen to Christian Podcasts.

A good podcast is a great way to restart or reassess your spiritual journey.  Right now, I’m enjoying The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey and Catholic Stuff You Should Know.  I also have a love-hate relationship with The Liturgists.

7. Pray daily.

Take 15 minutes apart from the chaos of daily life to soak in the peace and joy of Christ. If you need some guidance and structure, feel free to join me on Facebook Live each night through April 12th for Evening Prayer.  I also recommend the Pray-As-You-Go podcast.

A Final Note:

These Lenten practices, of course, are only a means to an end.  We do not keep them to satisfy some rule or to elevate our own status.  We keep them as a way to deepen our relationship with Christ.  The practices are the means; the relationship is the end.

Easter, with all its candies and brunches, will come regardless of your preparations for it or celebration of it.  Just like spring.  Just like baseball season.  Lent, however, offers us an opportunity to experience and appreciate that Easter holiday in a more meaningful way.  Even at the last minute.

So, buy the candy.  Put away your winter coat.  And, take a few minutes to pray.  God is right there.

What’s Making Me Happy This Week

pexels-photo-106223Well, folks, you win some, you lose some.  In the past 8 days, I failed to post not 1 but 2 scheduled blog entries.  There is no dramatic circumstance to explain my failures.  It was just good-old-fashioned imperfection.  

My natural instinct to failure is to withdraw or isolate.  Ask any of my close friends.  Ask my husband.  Ask my dog.  Failures, big and small, paralyze me with shame.  This is not a healthy response.  This is not a Christian response.  

The blog, however, has challenged me to change my response.  It has forced me to move forward, regardless of my setbacks, regardless of my shame.  And, since “shaking it off” isn’t my first instinct, I’m trying to make it my habit, instead.

So, today, I’m back at bat.  Some of what is below made me happy last week, but I hope it brings you a smile just the same.  And, if you’re holding on to any shame that is keeping you from smiling, consider giving yourself a little grace… God already has. 

What’s Making Me Happy (Last) Week

My husband and I spent some time at Madeira Beach recently.  In addition to visiting Bubba Gumps (perhaps my favorite chain restaurant of all time), I devoured the past few issues of Vanity Fair.  It was amazing.

The Dave-Ramsey-Love-Bug recently bit my husband, and he passed it along to me.  Thanks to Dave, we have already had some really important conversations about our money and our marriage.  I’m so excited to see where this journey leads up both financially and spiritually.

This is the best (only?) commercial for insurance I’ve ever seen.  If you’re looking for some warm-and-fuzzies, watch this video of a little girl dancing joyfully and carelessly around the house.  She makes me want to do some dancing of my own.

Where my married ladies at?  Politics aside (and, believe me, I ramble on for days about Trump-Pence politics), I admire the Vice President’s the strong commitment and close connection to his wife.  Andrew Exum’s recent essay in The Atlantic thoughtfully examines the pro’s and con’s of the so-called Billy Graham Rule. 

Finally, the last week has seen a lot of depressing news about the environment (even the Pope is upset!).  Manatees, however, just came off the Endangered Species List, so let’s cling to that happy news and keep the hope.  #seacowsmakemesmile

Wishing you a weekend full of faith, hope, love, and wine.

How To Pray When God Feels Far Away

The class discussion had been heavy, and our professor, a minister with a short blonde bob and long red sweater, surveyed the shrunken souls.  We were like raisins.  Shriveled. Dehydrated.  Burnt.  We needed refreshment and relief, so she invited us to pray.

She asked us all to stand, feet apart, eyes closed.  At her instruction, we lifted our arms high above our heads and said, “Christ above me.”  We returned our arms to our sides and said, “Christ below me.”  We continued, our arms stretching and swinging, our voices saying, “Christ before me.”  And, “Christ behind me.”  And, “Christ around me.”  And, finally, “Christ within me.”  

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We repeated the prayer again and again.  Moving our arms.  Taking deep breaths. Acknowledging our God.  After a few rounds, the heaviness lifted.  My shoulders straightened.  My soul loosened up.  My mind slowed down.  The despair drifted.  The hope reappeared.

After a few more rounds, I stopped saying the words aloud and settled my hands near my heart.  For a few minutes, I stood in still silence, letting the Lord move and speak instead.

Following that class, I took the prayer practice with me.  I did it at my desk at work, after getting an angry email but before replying.  I did it during my lunch break, after eating my turkey sandwich but before returning to the office.  I did it at home, when my mind was sluggish or anxious.  I did it at the doctor’s office, while waiting to see the specialist.  I did it at the DMV, while waiting to hear my number.  I did it at gas stations, next to the pump. I did it at parties, in a bathroom.  I did it whenever I stopped feeling the presence of Christ.  I did it whenever I stopped trusting the presence of Christ.

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Oftentimes, this simple prayer practice revives my soul, just as it did in that classroom so many years ago.  It instantly wraps me in the divine presence.

Other times, of course, I swing my arms until they’re tired and speak the words until they’re meaningless, and Christ still seems nowhere nearer.  Even in those moments, however, the prayer disrupts and disputes those voices insisting that Christ is inaccessible.  Even when the prayer does not instantly lift the despair, it prevents the despair from taking root.

We hear echoes of this struggle and this solution even in the Letter to the Colossians.  Paul describes Christ as “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in Him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers – all things have been created through Him and for Him.  He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

It is a beautiful and important but dense passage.  You could dwell – or write a dissertation – on any one of its phrases.  Even the most superficial reading, however, affirms that through Christ, the Triune God is both immanent in and transcendent of all creation. Or, as the Cliff Notes version might say, it affirms that Christ is above, below, before, behind, around, and within us.

We all have experiences of Christ’s intimate presence and His seeming absence.  The spiritual journey, it seems, to include waves of both.  And, no prayer can summon the consolation of Christ’s presence immediately and always.  No experience of Christ’s absence, however, can take away the truth of God’s immanence and transcendence.  

So, I offer you this prayer, just as my professor offered it to me, just as Paul offered it to the Colossians.  For when your soul feels dehydrated.  For when God feels distant.  For when you feel at risk for forgetting that Christ is above you; Christ is below you; Christ is before you; Christ is behind you; Christ is around you; and Christ is within you.  

Amen.

The Beginner’s Guide to Lectio Divina

Since its founding, Tampa has been steeped in all things Cuban.  Cuban music, Cuban cigars, Cuban food, and, of course, Cuban drinks.  The most beloved, perhaps, is that cool Cuban concoction, the mojito with its white rum, sugar cane, lime juice, club soda, and muddled mint.

As any local will tell you, muddling the mint is not the same as chopping or tearing the mint.  Muddling squeezes out the mint’s essential oils, along with its taste and scent, without ripping the leaves.  

On a hot summer day in Florida, nothing is more refreshing than a mojito.  It is tangy and sweet; fizzy and fresh; peaceful and joyful.  You don’t chug a mojito.  You sip it on a sunny porch with your sleepy pup and a pretty magazine.

The Beginner's Guide to Lectio Divina_1

At least, this is how I prefer to enjoy my mojito, in the backyard, in one of the red adirondack chairs.  And, as I enjoy it, my mind always wanders over to Saint John Chrysostom, the 5th-century archbishop of present-day Turkey (#seminarynerd).  Here is what John said about mint: “To get the full flavor of an herb, it must be pressed between the fingers.”  Here’s the other part of the quote: “so it is with the Scriptures; the more familiar they become, the more they reveal their hidden treasures and yield their indescribable riches.”

To get the full flavor of an herb, it must be pressed between the fingers, so it is with the Scriptures; the more familiar they become, the more they reveal their hidden treasures and yield their indescribable riches. – Saint John Chrysostom

John, from all those centuries ago, so beautifully articulated the wonder of scripture: it has depth and layers.  It is rich and complex, like a piece of good chocolate or cheese.  We can listen to the same passage over and over again and hear something new every time.  Its meaning is inexhaustible.  Which makes sense, since its author is also limitless, eternal. In other words, the Holy Word of God is, just that, the Word of God.  And, any encounter with it has the capacity to be an encounter with the divine.  

John Chrysostom must have experienced the grace of God through scripture.  And, he, like so many our own spiritual mentors and church leaders, longed for everyone to better know and love God through His Word.

But, how do you muddle scripture?  How do you press it between your fingers?  

The Beginner's Guide to Lectio Divina_2

To be fair, there are countless ways to experience the Word of God.  Intellectually. Spiritually.  Literally.  Allegorically.  There are countless ways to approach the Word of God.  As history.  As prophecy.  As literature.  Again, its complexity is part of its beauty.

While in seminary, I spent a lot of time looking at scripture from that intellectual angle. Digging into different translations and studying the historical context.  When I turned to scripture in my quiet time or at church, however, I struggled to flip the switch.  The intellectual angle should have been supporting – not impeding – my spiritual experience of the Word of God.  

Thus began my love affair with Lectio.  Lectio Divina, or Divine Reading, dates back to the earliest monastic communities, but its popularity has grown in both Catholic and Protestant communities in recent years.  Despite the fancy name and the long history, Lectio Divina is just a four-step-process for praying with scripture.  It is simply a structured way to muddle the scriptures; to release and absorb its scent, its taste, its essential oils.  

Below is a quick step-by-step guide to Lectio, as adapted from Antoine Lawlor’s “Ever Ancient, Ever New: The Art and Practice of Lectio Divina.”  I hope that the practice of offers you a lovely experience of the divine, as it has for me.  It’s a little like sitting on a porch, feeling the hot sun on your cheeks, listening to the steady panting of your pup, and sipping on a cool mojito, full of biting, tart rum, and soothing, sweet mint.  It’s like that. Only so much better.

Enjoy.


LECTIO DIVINA

  1. Lectio (Read the text)
    • Read the text aloud
      • Note the words and phrases that stand out to you
    • Read the text aloud again
      • Listen again for the words and phrases that resonate with you
  1. Meditatio (Meditate on the text)
    • Read and reflect on the text a third (and final) time
      • Note the memories, hopes, and concerns that this text brings up for you
      • Pay more attention to your emotional reactions, rather than your intellectual ideas or questions
  1. Contemplatio (Contemplate the text)
    • Sit in sacred silence
      • Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, do your best to quiet your own thoughts and listen for the divine
    • In contemplation, we have the opportunity to “know the Word wordlessly and without image”
  1. Oratio (Pray in response to the text)
    1. Respond to the divine (either silently, out loud, or in your journal)
      • Share with God what you experienced or learned in your reading of and reflection on the text
      • Offer to God the questions, concerns, or praises that are still lingering with you

Possible Passages:

  • Isaiah 6:1-8: The Call of Isaiah
  • Psalm 23: The Lord is My Shepherd
  • Matthew 5:1-10: The Beatitudes
  • John 4:7-11: God is Love
  • Romans 5:1-11: The Heavenly Graces (Faith, Hope, and Love)

 

Why The Perfect Time To Pray Is When You Don’t Want To Pray

It’s 6:30 in the morning in March in Virginia, so the sky is still black and the air still crisp as we drive.  We park in the vast, empty lot before the big, dark church, and we walk into the warm, yellow light of the chapel.  About 20 or so teenagers are already seated, but everyone is silent and still.  A few minutes pass before Father Mark enters with Mrs. Moreau, the petite French woman who wears a black lace veil over her hair and speaks with a thick accent.  She holds the golden Book of Gospels high above her head and processes, with the priest, down the center aisle toward the altar.  It is 6:30 in the morning in March in Virginia and 15-year-old me is here to worship.

Why the Perfect Time to Pray_1Growing up, my church celebrated these early morning Masses each Wednesday during Lent and Advent.  I dreaded it each Tuesday night as I set my alarm.  I regretted it each Wednesday morning as I showered while the rest of my family slept.  I loved it, however, the second we pulled into the parking lot and saw the light spilling from that one room in the otherwise dark church.  Even at age 15, I sensed that something special was happening in that chapel before the sun came up.  

The Mass always ran swiftly.  Given the hour, my usual anxious thoughts weren’t awake yet, and every word and movement of the liturgy amazed me.  Isaiah’s poetry and Paul’s arguments.  Mrs. Moreau’s deep bow before the altar.  The splash of red wine as the priest filled the golden chalice.  The echo of young voices praying to “our Father, who art in heaven.”  The feel of my friends’ hands, some soft and some sharp, as we offered peace. Then, finally, the priest’s long arms drawing the sign of the cross over us and his deep voice telling us to “go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”

At the time, I assumed our church leaders were teaching us some legalistic lesson about the importance of Mass attendance.

Now, some 15 years later, I know different.  

They were telling us:

This is where you come.  

This is to whom you come.

In the middle of the night, when you can’t see the way forward, when you’re anxious for the sun to rise, desperate for the Son to rise.

You come to God.

The youth minister, the priest, and even Mrs. Moreau knew that we would all, with time, experience the darkness and the ugliness of the world.  They knew that, in those moments, we would desire the light and beauty of the divine.  They knew that we would need God, and we would need to know how to reach Him.

So, they invited us and encouraged us to come together in prayer, even on a weekday, even before 7 in the morning.  And, now, I extend the same invitation to you.  

I invite you to pray, even when you don’t want to, especially when you don’t want to.  

Because, if we practice communing with God on our good days, it is a lot easier to commune with Him on our bad days.  

We’ll know where to search for Him.  We’ll know by which name to call Him.  We’ll know how to recognize the sound of His voice, the signs of His presence.

I have not seen Father Mark or Mrs. Moreau in well over a decade, but I recall and appreciate them each Lent.  Since high school, I have had several moments full of pre-dawn darkness and, thanks to them, I knew how to reach for God.  

It doesn’t often involve driving to church before 7 in the morning.  But it does involve whispering the Lord’s name, opening the Word, taking the Eucharist, sitting in sacred silence, and accepting peace from my neighbor.    

To be fair, there was never a Wednesday morning in high school when I leapt out of bed, eager to leave the comfort of my own house to rush to church.  There was also never a Wednesday morning that I left the chapel feeling less of the Lord’s joy and peace.  And, there has never been a day since that I longed for the Lord and could not locate Him. 

 

An Invitation to Meet with God

An Invitation to Meet with God_1Just a few miles off the highway, tucked away in the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest, in the middle of Atlanta, the Jesuits run a retreat center.  There, in the chapel with the wall of windows that overlooks the Georgian wilderness, I went to meet with God.  

It was a weekday afternoon in the middle of July 2015, and I was on a field trip with one of my seminary classes.  We were a ragtag bunch of ten students led by a mystic, Methodist minister.  

The center was largely empty, since most of the Jesuits were, ironically, away on a retreat of their own.  The remaining priest, a somewhat gruff gentleman, led us into the chapel to talk before releasing us to explore the grounds – and God – on our own.  

We peppered him with questions about the practical points of prayer.  When and where should we pray?  Why and how should we pray?  He answered begrudgingly: Set aside a specific time every day.  Create a space apart, even if it’s just a corner in your closet. Perhaps try following the five steps of the Daily Examen.  

He couched each answer with a caveat.  Talking about, thinking about, reading about prayer misses the point of prayer.  Eventually, you just have to pray.  You have to just do it.  

An Invitation to Meet with God_2It is in that spirit that, starting today, I will be hosting a daily prayer service on Facebook Live.  You can join the service each day during Lent, from March 1 to April 12, at 7:00pm Eastern.  For 10-15 minutes, we’ll read some scripture, spend some time in silence, pray for some special intentions, and experiment with some different prayer techniques.  All you have to do to join is visit the Faith, Hope, Love, and Wine Facebook Page.  Each day’s video will also be recorded and uploaded to the Facebook Page, so, if you can’t join me at 7, you can pray along on your schedule.

I, like that Jesuit priest, know just how difficult it can be to set aside time for prayer.  I also know, however, that through prayer, the Lord can change us and heal us for our own good.

So, I invite you, regardless of where you are on your spiritual journey, to join me in prayer this Lent.  While we cannot all travel to a retreat center on the Chattahoochee, we can still come together and meet with God.

Hosea and the Truth about the Love of God

Hosea is one of my favorite hymns… and one of my least favorite books of the Bible.

The hymn, by Gregory Norbet, is a short and sweet folk song with the beautiful refrain: Long have I waited for your coming home to me and living deeply our new life.  When I sing those words, I imagine the Lord inviting, imploring me to return to His open arms.  

The biblical book, however, is much more complicated.  The promise of reconciliation, which the hymn highlights, is buried under a litany of psychologically and physically violent threats.  Certain passages are difficult and painful to read and process.  

This jarring juxtaposition, however, reminds us that the love of God, while unconditional, is not for the lighthearted.  He calls us not to a superficial but a serious relationship.

The Truth About the Love of God_1

The Book of Hosea centers around a rough analogy.  Hosea represents God and Hosea’s wife, Gomer, represents the people of God.  Just as Hosea and Gomer are bound by their marital vows, God and His people are bound by their vows at Sinai.  Gomer, like the people of God, commits one infidelity after another.  Gomer’s infidelities include sleeping with other men.  Our infidelities include worshiping false idols.  Hosea and God, having been betrayed, threaten various, violent punishments.  

These punishments, for all of their ugliness, stress just how deeply God desires a faithful relationship with us.  God is not the kinda-sorta boyfriend who forgets to text you, who delays meeting your parents, who dates other people.  God is the serious boyfriend who throws rocks at your window, who sends flowers to your office, who picks you up from the airport because he hates when you go away.  This is not a casual relationship.  This is a head-over-heels, Facebook-official, put-a-ring-on-it relationship.

Even in our most serious relationships, however, we have moments when we distance ourselves.  We doubt, we pull back, we question, we hesitate.  The responsibility of a serious relationship seems too demanding.  The vulnerability seems too dangerous.  

The Book of Hosea understands this.  It knows that human relationships are marked by periods of intensity and intimacy; of disinterest and distance.  Accordingly, the book does not follow a nice and neat linear structure.  It does not simply show Hosea and Gomer falling in love, falling apart, and then reconciling and recommitting.  Instead, it is a roller-coaster of highs and lows, sins and sorry’s, betrayal and reconciliation.  It’s not a straightforward story line, but it is a realistic relationship.

My own relationship with God has been similarly tumultuous.  Sometimes, I wander away and then make a beeline back.  Other times, I storm off in anger and then  return not so much out of desire but out of duty.  Each time, God welcomes me back.  Yes, with open arms.  Yes, with forgiveness.  But, not without acknowledging His disappointment in my distance, not without challenging me to come closer.

My favorite hymn is not wrong in singing: Long have I waited for your coming home to me and living deeply our new life.  

God is, indeed, waiting for our return.  The biblical book reminds us, however, that His wait is marked by passion, not patience.

And, God, indeed, does offers us a new life in relationship with Him.  The book reminds us, however, that relationship with God demands responsibility, vulnerability, and fidelity.

I still cringe when I read certain parts of the Book of Hosea.  Not only because some of the language is disturbing and shocking.  But, also because I am keenly aware that I have so frequently distanced myself from a God who loves me, who desires me, who cares for me.

So, in the words of Hosea, “Come, let us return to the Lord” (6:1).

 

What’s Making Me Happy This Week

What's Making Me Happy_1Each Friday I like to share some of the things that have made me happy over the past week.  Oftentimes, it is an article that gave me guidance on my spiritual journey. Sometimes, it is a new gadget that has made my journey easier.  Sometimes, it is just a fun drink or a funny card has helped me to take myself and this world less seriously.  

Today, however, what is making me happy is something much more beautiful and meaningful than anything you can find on the Internet.  Today, what’s making me happy is my mom.  She made the trip down to Tampa from DC yesterday morning, and we’ve spent the past day, talking about life, walking the pup, and eating at all the best restaurants.

Even though I am almost 30 years old, when I see my mom, my soul breathes a deep sigh of relief.  I hug her and remember: I am loved, I am cared for, I am not alone.  The world, despite all my anxious thoughts otherwise, is actually not on my shoulders.

There were other things that made me happy this week.  Some more incredible articles, some more lighthearted reminders.  And, I will return to share them next week.  For today, however, I am going to hang out with my mom.  Today is her birthday, and we’re going to celebrate with a fancy dinner at the Columbia, a local institution.  We’re going to reminisce about the past year and dream about the year ahead.  

Meanwhile, I invite you all to reflect on the relationships that have made you happy over the past year?  Consider your relationship with your partner, your siblings, your friends, your parents, your small groups. Who has lifted your spirit in times of distress?  Who has joined in your joy in times of celebration?  Who has walked with you through times of transition?  How can you express your gratitude for these relationships to them and to God?  I pray that, through these relationships, we will all learn how to better give and accept the perfect love of Christ.

Wishing you a weekend full of faith, hope, love, and wine.

2 Questions to Consider for Ash Wednesday… and Lent and Easter and Everyday

2 Questions to Consider for Ash Wednesday_2Something big is coming.

Something life-changing.

Something world-changing.

As a general rule, I hate change.  I am quick to judge and slow to warm.  Transitions are tough for me.

These days, however, I am craving a change.  My anxiety, some of it my own creation and some of it borrowed from the outside world, has left me weary.  I’m eager for a fresh start. I’m excited for the something big.

As with most things, there is good news and bad news.  I’ll start with the bad: the something big requires a lot of work.  Think of how your body feels after a run: chest heaving, shins aching, hair sticking to your hot cheeks.  Imagine if your soul felt like that. The something big demands that sort of effort, exertion.  Now, for the good news: the something big comes with countless gifts.  Think of how your body feels after a shower: skin soft, muscles relaxed, hair dripping down your bare back.  Imagine if your soul felt like that.  The something big can cleanse you, calm you, heal you.

Even I’m okay with that kind of change.

Preparations for the something big start in 7 days, on March 1, with Ash Wednesday. Christians from the Catholic and Protestant traditions will spread ashes across their foreheads in acknowledgment of their iniquity and mortality.  Just like Job, they will pray, “I despise myself,/ and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6).  

For approximately 40 days thereafter, us Christians will undertake certain sacrifices and practices to grow closer to God.  We will do so in the example of Jesus, who “was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil” (Luke 4:1b-2a).

Then, on Sunday, April 16, we will celebrate the biggest something that ever was: Easter. Just as Peter did some 2,000 years ago, we will get up and run to the tomb; stoop and look in, [and] see the linen cloths by themselves.  We will return home, amazed at what has happened (see Luke 24:12).

How will you prepare to fully experience and embrace the something big?  

If you’re not sure how to prepare, reflect on the questions below.  Your preparation may involve sacrificing something (e.g., alcohol, makeup, social media, etc) for the 40 days. Or, your preparation may involve doing something new (e.g., volunteering with a local charity, reading a devotional, calling your grandma, etc).  The questions below helped me make my own Lenten commitments, and I hope they will help you prepare appropriately for Easter. I pray that, when the something big does come, it will change us and our world like never before.

Questions

  1. How can I better love and serve God?
    • What practices help me connect with God (e.g., studying the Bible, walking a labyrinth, keeping a journal, etc)?
    • Can I engage in these practices more frequently?
    • If so, how can I make time and space for these practices?
  2. How can I better love and serve my neighbor?
    • Have I demonstrated all the fruits of of the Holy Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, etc)?
    • If not, how can grow in one or more of these fruits?
    • Is there a particular relationship in my personal or professional life that needs particular attention or effort right now?
    • Is there a need in my local or national community that I can address?
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