“For each age is a dream that is dying, or one that is coming to birth.”
Of all the seasons we are so fortunate to observe, autumn has always been and still is my favorite. As the waning days of summer close, autumn marks a change of pace as I acquiesce to the sometimes graceful and sometimes sudden passage of time. Brilliant displays of color paint the landscape and sky, disguising the encroaching darkness that will soon redefine my way and way of being. As in life…Especially the last several years that brought so much change to my perspective on life. Where there was more dying than living. A life that was (and is) both full and fleeting, beautiful and painful.
There is a quiet, if not hidden, beauty in the dying that takes place – in this season and in life. Author, Parker Palmer, eloquently describes the grace of this truth: “The hopeful notion that new life is hidden in dying is surely reinforced by the visual glories of autumn. (Indeed,) what artist would paint a deathbed scene with the vibrant and vital palette nature uses?”
We often associate the radiance of springtime with the beginning of life. We celebrate the emergence of tender shoots and sprigs of green from the cold, barren, snow-covered earth; beginning a cycle that winds slowly down to the rustle of dying leaves that have fallen back to earth. But something first had to die – come to an end – so that a newer life, fed and strengthened by whatever has been lost, could come alive in its place. It is in the radiant dying of autumn and the barren sleep of winter, that the seeds for the new life born in spring and lived in summer, are first imagined.
Resurrection can only come through death. Fr. Richard Rohr describes this passageway to new life: “Jesus willingly died—and Christ arose—yes, still Jesus, but now including and revealing everything else in its full purpose and glory.” It is in the dyings of life when our full humanity comes to life.
Life is born through death. We experience these dyings more often than we – at least on the surface – realize. Ideas, plans, and philosophies die back to engender new ones. When we graduate high school and college that season of life dies as we enter the next stage of life in adulthood. When relationships begin and end, when we marry, when we have children, when we leave a job or a neighborhood, when we begin a new endeavor or pursue a different direction, a part of us dies. Must die. Must end. You can choose to view the dyings and painful endings in life as passages to anger, blame, hatred, depression, and resentment, or you can choose to let them be passages to something new, something wider, something deeper. With each of these dyings, we are given the opportunity for new life; they allow us to let go and lead us to discover new directions, new purposes. With every ending, we are given a passageway to something more – seeds for new life
But new life has to be claimed and nurtured. Without water – the spring green grass withers and goes to weed, the budding trees fail to thrive. Without encouragement and tending – gardens won’t yield a crop. Without nurture, calves and fawns, ducklings and goslings die.
After a far too lengthy season of winter, I am reclaiming spring for my life. A new hip does wonders! Free of chronic pain that at times made me wish for death and clouded every aspect of my spirit – I am once again anticipating opportunities for growth and waking up each day with hope. But freedom from pain also means I must let go of my painful way of being. When pain was my constant companion anyway, I let the painful parts of life – deaths, breakups, failures, uncertainty – make a home in me where anger, blame, depression, and resentment flourished.
With renewed strength and hope – I’ve been clearing my inner landscape of the wintry darkness that claimed so much of me. It is hard work – humbling work. But as I breathe in the dewy fragrance of the spring morning and let the sun shine in, the more I realize that life is not diminished by darkness or death. It is made more organic, more wholehearted, more resilient and resplendent.
If you think about it, everything alive in the world and in us is made up of things that have passed before us, gone about the business of dying and living. That’s much more hopeful than the idea that life, the moment it appears, begins winding its way inescapably toward death.
The endless interplay of darkness and light, the dying and rising, the endings and beginnings, the autumns and springs of life remind me that everything is forever being made new. And new life is a wonderful season to embrace.
Oh God of Life and Creation, You give life and breath to all things. As Spring takes hold in our spirits, as the snow melts, bulbs bloom, trees blossom, and the rivers run high and fast – it’s as if we have come alive once again to sing praises to you. During this season of transition, we recognize that some things must pass away, step aside, move on, let go – to make way for new life. As the school year comes to an end, as chapters close in our lives, as we grow older each day, as we learn to let go – guide us through these times of transition with Your sustaining love and Spirit of peace. Amen
Grace and peace to you dear friends in Christ, from God our Father – and a special blessing of peace and abundant gratitude to all mothers on this day that we honor you.
Sometimes, I found them in my lunch box nestled between the same old same old PB&J or Turkey sandwich and the resplendent orange Cheetos – aside from those Cheesy wonders, they were the best thing in my lunch box – other times they were tucked under my pillow waiting for me at bedtime, still others arrived in care packages when I was far from home – love notes from Mom.
Notes that took her place when she could not be there to protect me from the world or when I was too grown up to be tucked in at night but still needed assurance that she was near and the night was not to be feared. No matter the circumstance, she always seemed to know in advance just what I would need to know in that moment – that she believed in me – that I would never be alone – that she was sorry – that she loved me more than words can say. I never tired of finding her heartfelt words intended to help me through whatever challenge I was facing…They gave me courage to face whatever the day had in store for me – when I was the new girl in school, when junior high bullies made life miserable, when adult life was messy, when my heart was broken, when I had more questions than answers, when I was afraid of failing, when I was confused or felt terribly alone. Later in life, when our spoken words held more heat than light, her written words would gently soften and heal my heart.
Though my mom and I had a difficult relationship in later years, my memories of her now are only ensconced in love. I’ve been missing her for over 7 years now and every once in a while, when I am searching through the room where I piled all my collected junk upon moving here – I’ll come across the stack of letters and even some of the lunch notes she gave me. At once, her love comes flooding over me – once again encouraging me – and reminding me that I am not alone and that I am so very loved. Even though she cannot be with me, somehow, I know she still is.
This morning, we find Jesus preparing his disciples for hard days ahead when he too, will no longer be with them. We have jumped back to the before times – before his crucifixion – before the disciples’ lives are turned upside down – before the world is changed forever. It is the Last Supper. Bread has been broken and wine poured, feet have been washed, the betrayer has left. I imagine the disciples sitting back pleasantly full from their meal and relaxed after their feet have been lovingly refreshed. There is an ambiance of warmth and intimacy. But now night has fallen and darkness enters in – as Jesus announces he is leaving the disciples. Not just leaving but going to the Father. The one for whom the disciples left everything, with whom they have risked their lives, and who has transformed their lives – now says he is going where they cannot yet go. Imagine sitting with someone you love and have devoted your life to as they speak such foreboding words – words you don’t want to hear let alone believe – that soon they will not be with you.
This was one of my greatest fears growing up and even into adulthood – often keeping me awake long into the night – that my parents would die, that I would be abandoned, that I would find myself alone in this world.
As does anyone who has ever loved and lost a parent, a spouse, a child, a friend, their sense of security, their hope – I imagine the disciples had questions like these running through their minds: What will I do now? Where do I go? What happens next? Who will love, nurture, and guide me? Who will stand by me? What will become of me? Who am I now?
Questions that speak to our greatest fears and challenges – abandonment and isolation, loneliness and vulnerability, loss of identity and purpose.
We fear becoming orphaned, forgotten, left behind. That fear points to the deeper reality that by ourselves we are not enough. That maybe this world is too much for us – that maybe we are not up to the life we’ve been handed. It is not, however, because we are deficient – though millions of dollars are made convincing us that we are. It is because we were never intended or created to be self-sufficient. Though millions of dollars are made implying that we can be transformed as such.
We were never intended to stand alone. We were created in love to love and be loved, to live in relationship sharing ourselves with one another; to dwell, abide, and remain within each other. There is a joy in companionship that is life giving. It gives us a sense of identity and meaning and belonging – a joy that Jesus shared with his disciples and followers up to this point.
But there are seasons of life when the transitions, changes, and tragedies take us off course and leave us without an identity or direction – when we feel we are destined to walk alone; when the community surrounding us seems distant or foreign; when we feel forgotten by a world that just goes on without us as we try to find our footing – try to find our way. When the life we have known is suddenly pulled out from under us, it can be hard to do anything but draw inward and seek security from within. But this just furthers our sense of abandonment, exclusion and isolation.
Jesus knows this. He has been there – wandering in the wilderness, chased out of towns he once called home, and soon he will be there again, forsaken by the disciples he loves in the Garden of Gethsemane. Knowing his words of departure will leave his followers distraught he speaks these powerful words into our lives: “I will not leave you orphaned. I am coming to you.”
Regardless of the circumstances of our lives, death, separation, the storms we endure, even sin – when we forsake our relationship with God, we have never been and will never be abandoned by God. Jesus promises that just as he was by their side as a living Advocate as the Way and the Truth, as a comforter, helper, counselor and encourager, the Father will give us another who will come along side us – The Spirit of Truth.
Jesus promised, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.”
Into a world which neither sees or knows this truth, into a world that would have us go on feeling abandoned, questioning ourselves, and conditioning God’s love for us and our love for others, into a world where loneliness has reached epidemic proportion, God sends us another Advocate. Just as Jesus did, the Spirit comes along side us to advocate for us in the face of all these challenges, reminding us of Jesus’ promise to be with us and for us in the face of all the things that conspire to make us doubt our worth in God’s eyes, let alone the world.
Six weeks on from Easter Sunday, how many times have you needed someone like that?
How many times have you wondered where God was? And, how can it be as the ways of this world take hold of us, that we are worthy of and capable of unconditional love and loving unconditionally as children of God? How can we possibly live and move and have our being as offspring of the Creator – for whom the good shepherd laid down his life?
It is a hard identity to hold onto, a hard identity to believe is really ours, especially when we are stressed or frightened, unsure about our future, or when have let others down, hurt another, and it feels like everything has been turned upside down. How can we ever love Jesus enough?
Six weeks on from the empty tomb I pose this question – what then do we believe? Is Jesus, for us, as The Way, the Truth, and the Life – a past memory, a sentimental story that makes us feel good, or a living experience that challenges, guides, and nurtures our life?
Though we often hear it as such, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” isn’t a conditional statement. This isn’t an if/then statement where Jesus says – only if you love me will I love you, nor is it – If you keep my commandment, I will love you. No, it is a promise! Jesus has loved us from the beginning. He came to give us life and to give us life more abundantly. (John 10:10) He is telling us that by loving him we are fulfilling the new and greatest commandment given just before this passage begins: “(T)hat 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)
When fulfilled, this new commandment transforms our lives, our identity and our direction – and reveals his promise to us.
Jesus promises that we will see and know Him and that because He lives, we also live. This promise isn’t just for some future heavenly life – but pertains to the quality and way of our life now. Because He lives means we live in a different away. Eugene Peterson’s The Message translation words it this way: “because I am alive you’re about to come alive. At that moment you will know absolutely that I’m in my Father, and you’re in me, and I’m in you.”
With this promise, with this LOVE, with this Spirit within us – we live and move and have our being in this world sure of our identity and calling as Children of God. We no longer ask whether we keep commandments – we just do. We no longer ask whose feet we should wash – we just wash them. We accompany and comfort, guide and encourage others not for any gain on our part but for the sheer joy of relationship. We no longer put boundaries on love – our love for others or God’s love for us. When we love as Jesus loved, the Spirit comes alongside us to help us love without limits! To help us love our neighbor as ourselves, to love our enemies, and to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
As our lives are challenged, guided, and nurtured we see Jesus as a present reality and as our love grows and expands – transforming ourselves and the world in the process – we see his promise fulfilled – that we are not left orphaned. On the contrary – we are surrounded by love.
Just to be clear – there are no prerequisites on the love of Jesus. Keeping the commandment of Love does not make Jesus present to us. Even when we feel unable to love, even if we remain self-enclosed and isolated – Jesus remains faithful to us and his promise to never abandon us is still real – we simply have not claimed it for ourselves.
Keeping the commandments do not earn us Jesus’ love, they reveal our love for him, a love that originates from his abiding love and presence within us.
As my mother’s lunch box love notes over and over again encouraged me and reminded me that I was not alone and that I was loved – more than words could ever say, over and over, day after day, regardless of what is happening in our lives, the Spirit abides within us – reminding us of Jesus promise: those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them…”
We have not been abandoned so do not abandon yourselves or others to the dark places of this world. Love with all that you are and all that you have just as the Father and the Son love us more than words can ever say.
We have received the best love note we could ever hope for – God’s Son.
Dad saw the world through eyes that had seen just about everything this broken and beautiful world had to offer and still thought life was great! He never walked away from a challenge – rather he did whatever he could to make every situation better even if it meant more work or hardship. I will never be able to fill his shoes or even his white socks, but I sure try.
It’s hard to believe I have been making my way without him for six years now. I miss his words of assurance and I still need his advice, but I know that his love is always here.
My dad died around 10 am the morning of April 29, 2017. I was blessed to be by his side. Watching someone you love slip the bonds of this world is utterly life-taking and exhausting. Later that afternoon, feeling completely undone and empty, I went for a long walk in the hills where I had always done my best thinking and dreaming.
As I made my way back to the pavement, there parked right where the path led me was a VW bus with this message from heaven. “Let Your Light So Shine.” (The title of this little blog of mine!)
The driver – an angel who seemed to know what my tears and incredulous laughter were all about – walked and talked with me until my smile had overcome my tears. I want to be that person for someone someday!!
Dad saw the world through eyes that had seen just about everything this broken and beautiful world had to offer and still thought life was great! I know he was telling me to carry on – and shine.
Thanks, Dad. I love you more than words can say. Your light still shines.
It has been six very long and very short years since I last heard Dad say my name. After the longest, fastest drive of my life across this great big state that held his heart, he knew, for a moment at least, that I had made it home. And with that his journey home began.
I will never forget the sound of his voice when I walked into the austere hospital room where he lay – at the edge of life. It jarred me so. It was not the voice I wanted to remember Dad by. But that aural memory of my father that I want to hold on to oh so badly – is slipping away into the ocean of noise created by THIS world.
And yet the things I do remember – I hold so dear – like the bit of scruff on his cheeks brushing mine and that all-encompassing hug. He could hug the high desert Wyoming cold right of me.
There are times now I know he is doing the same – hugging this cold hard world right out of me – and reminding me that no matter my present state – I am Neil and Evelyn’s daughter and I am loved.
I took this photo on April 27, 2014. Life was so very different then.
Little did I know how much this moment of peace that pops up in my “Memories” every year on this day would come to mean to me.
On April 27, 2017 I received a call – the call- no one wants to make or receive. My poor brother, once again calling me home from across the endless miles of this vast state. The call that makes the world stop and changes life forever. The longest drive of my life was before me. Would I make it in time?
It was up to God now – like it always had been. Even though my faith is my foundation, it has always been very hard for me to not try to control God – make my ways His way. This ending, this sending – our story was not supposed to come to a close like this.
BUT – the amazing thing about faith is when I finally gave our Lord Jesus my will and fully trusted my Dad to my Him, a certain peace came over me. My heart quit pounding, my ears quit rushing, and while my tears didn’t stop flowing, my eyes could see clearly again. His grace is amazing. So was my Dad.
Montana is a big state and I spent the next day gunning it home – gritting my teeth as every slow driver seemed to find a place in front of me.
Sometimes it feels like yesterday. How is it possible it has been 6 years since I last heard my Dad say my name? It was the last thing he said – though we still have great conversations – I just wish the voice wasn’t only in my head.
Let me hear of your unfailing love each morning, for I am trusting you. Show me where to walk, for I give myself to you. ~ Psalm 143:8
“What a God we have! And how fortunate we are to have him, this Father of our Master Jesus! Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven—and the future starts now! God is keeping careful watch over us and the future. The Day is coming when you’ll have it all—life healed and whole.”
– 1 Peter 1:3-5
Winter came abruptly last year and its resilience has held a tight grip on my yard well into this year, laughing at the sun’s feeble attempts to break through its icy grip. But finally, on the afternoon of Easter Sunday, I was able to get to work on clearing away the remains of a summer and autumn that ended too quickly for my taste and schedule.
It was a dirty job, raking away piles of leaves and late summer’s last blooms caught unawares by the first heavy snowfall that perpetually covered my windblown neck of the world in feet of deep drifting snow, then ice, then more snow, and so on. As I raked away the layers of winter’s wrath, I’ll be darned if I wasn’t at once surprised and then heartened to see the first green sprigs of my cottage yarrow making an earnest attempt at life peeking out from the cold ground. I paused, momentarily, and praised their hard work of making their spring-green presence known, and I felt the weariness of winter loosen its grip on me. New life had won the day!
New life has a way of surprising us, doesn’t it? Often coming when we least expect it (as with those sprigs of green popping through winter’s leftover wrath.) As I returned to uncovering the rest of my yard, I pondered how easy it would have been to miss that resurrection moment in my fervent rush to get the raking done, to get rid of the death winter wrought on my yard.
We experience many deaths in our lives and they usually don’t go unnoticed – actual death, a life changing diagnosis, job changes, relationship changes (even marriage brings death to a certain way of being), children leaving the nest. Every day that we live a part of us is dying away.
But just as death closes a door on our lives, new life opens one. How often do I miss these resurrection moments happening in my life every day?
As Father Richard Rohr writes:
“I want to enlarge your view of resurrection from a one-time miracle in the life of Jesus that asks for assent and belief, to a pattern of creation that has always been true, and that invites us to much more than belief in a miracle. It must be more than the private victory of one man to prove that he is God. Resurrection and renewal are, in fact, the universal and observable pattern of everything. We might just as well use non-religious terms like “springtime,” “regeneration,” “healing,” “forgiveness,” “life cycles,” “darkness,” and “light.” If incarnation is real, and Spirit has inhabited matter from the beginning, then resurrection in multitudinous forms is to be fully expected.”
For many, many reasons, Easter is by far my favorite day of the year. Not just my favorite Holy Day but favorite day of the year. It is the one day I don’t hit the snooze button at least once – but rather bound out of bed anticipating the SON rise! It’s the day we “officially” celebrate Resurrection both of our Lord Jesus Christ and, if we are honest, of our winter and death weary souls. But after the rush to church (and I do mean rush as sometimes I get carried away with my “son-gazing” photography at dawn), festive worship services filled with rejoicing among friends and family in the light of the Resurrection, Easter Egg hunts and eggsellent brunches – I find the quiet of Easter night every bit as meaningful. For it is then, as the day quiets down, that it is just me and my Lord sorting out what all this means. And just what does it all mean for me tomorrow and the day after?
Will I live my life any differently tomorrow knowing that nothing can separate me from the love of God; that eternal life is for me now, that incomparable love and belonging are mine now; that forgiveness and true freedom are mine now – just as I am? AND that because of this living truth, I can share all this with anyone and everyone I encounter – in my current capacity – just as I am without fear, without judgment, without holding back?
Or will I fall back into the ways of this hard and weary world? Will I allow the deaths in life to obscure the opportunity of the new life they bring?
It’s a question I am faced with every morning – when the weight of the world presses in on me, when my faith, hope and joy are challenged by the news of the day, by doubt, uncertainty and darkness. Will I still be spring green and earnest and grasp the new life that continues to beckon in the midst of everything? Or will I hit the snooze button and let the storms of life and darkness pull me down?
I wish that I could say I live every day reflecting confidence that I know my Redeemer lives – and that I for certain know what that means for me in my very ordinary, often messy, anything but spring green life. But I don’t.
No, again and again I am shown the Light and choose to look away, I know the Truth and still choose mine, I know the Way – but still wander in circles.
Thankfully, every day we are given a new life – not just a chance at one. “(We) have been crucified with Christ and (we) no longer live, but Christ lives in us. The life we now live in the body, we live by faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave himself for us.” (Galatians 2:20)
New life is right there waiting for us to wake up – we are new every morning! Our old selves die away and we rise with the SON – with Christ – opening doors to new ways of being: knowing that nothing can separate us from the love of God; that we have life eternal in an incomparable love and belonging; that we are forgiven and truly free; and, free to forgive. AND because of this living truth, we can share all this with anyone and everyone we encounter – without fear, without judgment, without holding back.
Just as the earth dies away each winter – bringing cover and nourishment for the new life that emerges each spring, we are resurrected into life to bring life to the world. Rise anew with the Son as the sun rises. It’s a gift and a reason to jump out of bed for – not just on Easter Sunday – but every day.
Easter is by far my favorite day of the year. Jesus Christ is Risen today – how could it not be? It is the one day I don’t hit the snooze button at least once – but rather bound out of bed anticipating the SON rise! But after the rush to church (and I do mean rush as sometimes I get carried away with my “son-gazing” ) festal worship services, rejoicing and congregating with friends and family in the light of the Resurrection – I’m finding the quiet of this Easter night every bit as meaningful. For now, in this quiet at the end of the day, it’s just me – and my Lord- sorting out what all this means.
Will I live my life any differently tomorrow knowing that eternal life is for me now, that freedom is mine right now, that incomparable love is mine now, that belonging is mine now, that forgiveness is mine now – just as I am – AND that I can share all this with anyone and everyone I encounter – in my current capacity – just as I am?
Or will I fall back into the ways of this hard and weary world?
It’s a question which continuously begs to be answered – one I am faced with every morning. I wish that I could say I live every day in a manner that exudes confidence that I know My Redeemer lives – and that I for certain know what that means. But I don’t.
No, again and again I see the Light and still choose darkness, I know the Truth and still choose mine, I know the Way – but still wander aimlessly in circles.
Despite all this, tonight, I am at peace, I can rest, knowing that nothing can separate me from the love of God – not even me.
May it be so with you too.
May you carry Easter’s truth and light with you in all your ways and all your days.
Holy Saturday, the day in-between. Our Lord has been crucified and now we wait – wait for the celebration we know is to come – of resurrection, of life, of promise, and hope. But for now, we are suspended. Suspended in the grief of our Lord’s death – shocked by the brutality of Good Friday – perhaps more cognizant of our fallen ways. With a broken spirit, I am uncertain of how to go about this day. Some will go about the day as if it were any other Saturday – sleeping in, working out, doing household chores, runs to the dump, shopping, and if we are lucky to be free of snow, some early Spring yard work or a trek into the hills.
And why not? It is difficult to dwell in grief and uncertainty; to live with the darkness a day like Good Friday brings into our being. We want to move on – quickly – to the joys of life we know and are coming. We want to live in the triumphant brass and bold joyous singing and drink in the “Good News” of Easter morning. And so we do anything to distract us from what this day in the Christian belief system represents – Jesus Christ’s death and descent to hell and the numbness and fear felt by Jesus’s followers after the horrifying events of the previous twenty-four hours. A day where a suddenly and frighteningly unknown future pierces the heart.
I know this day well, perhaps you do too. I lived it after the deaths of my parents and the end of my marriage. Anyone who has been on the journey of life for a good distance is cognizant of what a great loss can do to upend your world. The day after death. The day after your heart is broken. The day after the divorce. The day after the job was lost. The day after the diagnosis. The day after a dream was shattered. The day after a part of your life has died. The day after a part of you has died. Today is the day after, where putting the pieces of life back together seems unimaginable; when the sheer shock of catastrophe that muted our feelings and sheltered us from the raging storm has worn off.
Today is the hard day. Today is the painful day of initiation by reality. The time after the funeral when the calls and visits stop. The uneasy time between your diagnosis and treatment, when there is absolutely nothing you can do but wait. Today embodies the loneliness and the nothingness that invades the soul when friends no longer check in as they must get back to living their lives and your life is supposed to get back to normal. And isn’t that what we all really want to do – just get back to living our normal lives?
But the thing is, great loss changes you, forever. Normal will never look the same again. Great loss forever unsettles you from the life you once knew. Life won’t be the same. You won’t be the same. The shadow of The Cross will transform you.
It may harden you; it may fill you with bitterness or remorse. It may soften you and make you more present. In whatever manner, it will change you. And you find yourself here – on a day just like today. How will you live in it and how will you live it? How has the shadow of the cross changed you? Will you let it change you?
We’d all like to think the travesty of what happened on the cross wasn’t necessary. Surely, we had no part. But without the horrors of The Cross and the bleak uncertainty that reigns over This Day, we would not know the hope and promise of new life tomorrow – Easter Day – and every day – reigning in our lives as I write.
New life sprang from The Cross and in the tomb a history-changing transformation began and because of that, new life can spring from the cross you are in the shadow of now.
And so, as we face our shadows with life at times suspended, as we try to carry on – however unsettled and uncertain each day may be – remember Jesus also endured this Day After, this Time In-Between. Trust that God is neither absent from nor inactive in your life. God was creating a new vision of life that none on that day after Good Friday could imagine. We know that God raised Jesus from the depths, providing the ultimate turning point for time immemorial and God is not finished. He is never finished. God never stops creating us anew and He never stops loving us.
Today, God is at work – redeeming and restoring the whole of creation with His mercy and grace. Let this be so. Let His will be done.
“Here it is in a nutshell: Just as one person did it wrong and got us in all this trouble with sin and death, another person did it right and got us out of it. But more than just getting us out of trouble, he got us into life! One man said no to God and put many people in the wrong; one man said yes to God and put many in the right. All that passing laws against sin did was produce more lawbreakers. But sin didn’t, and doesn’t, have a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace. When it’s sin versus grace, grace wins hands down. All sin can do is threaten us with death, and that’s the end of it. Grace, because God is putting everything together again through the Messiah, invites us into life—a life that goes on and on and on, world without end.”
“Knowing how to listen is an immense grace, it is a gift which we need to ask for and then make every effort to practice.” – Pope Francis
As I was out on my run a few mornings ago, I found myself listening. Not to the latest news, my favorite podcast, or even the melodies of Telemann or Vivaldi (truly some of the best music to run to – try it!). No, I found myself listening to the chorus of chickadees and sparrows breaking the silence of a snow blanketed earth with their morning songs. In that moment, I felt the icy grip of this long, dark winter loosen its bonds on my soul. I wondered if they knew I was listening to their melodies. I wondered if they could ever know what a gift they had given me in the act of listening and being listened to.
I wondered if they were listening to the conversation I was having with God. I know that God always hears my prayers, but at times I don’t always feel like God is listening to me God’s voice is not always something we can or want to hear. His voice reveals to us our deepest and sometimes painful truths about who we are – but we also hear that we are His. As the sun peeked over the mountain top and warmed the frosted valley and my frostbit face, I had a spiritual awakening. I had been heard. The feeling of being listened to, of being heard, of being accepted and not judged for my thoughts and insecurities did more for me than any vain attempt to fill the silence with bluster and avoid the uncomfortable intimacy of deep conversation with God. If only all conversations could be so fruitful.
At the heart of all relationships is the act of listening. Or at least it used to be. Now we have platforms to post to; platforms through which we can form and shape our persona and control how we want others to see us and hear us. As a Communications major in college, I learned that the medium was the message. Now the message is created precisely for the medium – and it would seem we are all very busy messaging who we are to the world. It doesn’t always work out how we envisioned though. Through our careful curation of our platform persona, much of who we are is lost. No matter how in touch we are with ourselves or how strong our claim of identity is, regardless of the independence we profess, who we are is deeply influenced by those we interact with. Our interactions with others provide us with the sense of who we are. Choose your interactions wisely and choose to interact in person not on a platform.
I am reminded of a deep conversation I recently had with a good friend, one filled with honesty and pain, hope and laughter. Conversation – the act of talking and listening, speaking and being heard – is one of the most valuable gifts we can give each other. The transfer of ideas from one mind to another in a trusting dance of giving, receiving, and understanding immeasurably enriches our lives.
To be authentically heard by someone is an incredible gift, one that can heal wounds left by this imperfect world and bring us into communion with one another. To listen to someone is to tap into a deeper essence of their being and share a oneness that precludes background, religion, culture, and class. For in that moment all you are doing is receiving the essence of who they are, welcoming without judgement, the reality of their life. The act of listening leads to new understanding. It allows us to connect to each other at the heart level and discover common ground and new possibilities. It may even reveal opportunities for our own growth and inner healing.
Indeed, the act of listening has incredible power. Listening can be a powerful force for good when done well but a powerful force for evil to take hold in someone’s life when done poorly or not at all.
Anyone who feels they haven’t been listened to can give testimony to this. Those who haven’t been heard by others – especially those close to them – feel they have been invalidated, that their thoughts have no real worth, that their presence in others’ lives really doesn’t matter, that their troubles are inconsequential, and their goals lacking.
To be a good listener you need an inner strength and confidence to not need to prove yourself with wise declarations, witty statements, or surface level sympathy. An effective listener does not need to make their presence known other than to let the one who needs to be heard know that they are open to receive, to welcome, and accept what one has to say. The good listener does not need to fill the silence with platitudes or hear their own voice. The good listener can and must simply share the silence and let the silence speak.
The late theologian, Henry Nouwen, describes the act of listening as spiritual hospitality.
“Listening is much more than allowing another to talk while waiting for a chance to respond. Listening is paying full attention to others and welcoming them into our very beings. The beauty of listening is that those who are listened to start feeling accepted, start taking their words more seriously and discovering their own true selves. Listening is a form of spiritual hospitality by which you invite strangers to become friends, to get to know their inner selves more fully, and even to dare to be silent with you.”
We live in a time when much of life is virtual, contrived, distant, and produced. Is it any wonder that our world has become fractured? Fault lines that were undetectable in the past now threaten to break open as our foundations of mutuality and trust are weakened by uncertainty and misunderstanding.
But I have hope. I think we all long for community and healing, authenticity and forgiveness, life in the midst of death, peace between peoples, and fulfillment amid challenges. We all long to understand and be understood. And it all starts with listening.
Having experienced the healing power of being heard, I am intent on becoming a better listening presence in the lives of others. I think the world needs more listeners and fewer platformers. Listeners who are willing to engage in an exchange from the deepest level of our humanity. Perhaps if we really listened, we might all feel more at home with others and ourselves, comforted and encouraged by the grace and peace of authentic relationship.
Listen and you just might hear the melody of a new day and new way dawning.
Yesterday was my birthday. I don’t usually celebrate my birthday. I’m not one for parties and am uncomfortable being feted. It’s just me and the dog at home and the best part about that is every day is a birthday party for him!!! I’m his end all and be all unless he spots a squirrel. He is a good reminder that I matter when the days and nights all blur together into a dense fog. And so, as the day dawned – I gave thanks for waking up yet again and went about my day. I worked out, walked the dog, shoveled snow – yet again – and raced to work and worked all day straight through. I did not feel celebratory at all but others did and they remembered me and I am humbled by their blessings of words and gifts of love.
Those mighty words remind me how blessed I am to have crossed paths with, done the good and hard parts of life with, and made it through every day with some really wonderful people! No wonder it is hard to believe I am 52 – time flies when you are in the company of good friends and loving family.
My 51st year was a transformational one for me in mind, body – especially body- and spirit. I feel 10 years younger than I did at this time last year – thanks to a wonderful surgeon and the support of a great PT and love from friends and family seeing me through a major life event!! I feel so much freer now – free from pain and free from so many oppressive, life and light suppressing thoughts. I did the hard work – physically and mentally – for the last year to get to this point. What started out as one of my most miserable years – in recent history at least – ended with fun and a peace in my heart I have honestly never known.
I have to admit to being a bit teary eyed as I went to bed last night. But then, no one who knows me well is surprised by that!! I was thinking about all that transpired in this last year and how much has changed inside of me. It is daunting and exciting to think about what could be next! Year 52 – I am ready for you!!!
What a journey we are ALL on. Never knowing what tomorrow will bring – but still keeping on – knowing that we share the journey – each one uniquely our own – and yet traveling as one under this great big sky and God of ours! Life isn’t easy but it is so worthwhile! Every day is a new opportunity to launch anew, breathe in a fresh start, let go, and to be and to receive a blessing or two. So, here’s to another 18,980 days to do just that!!! I hope you will join me!