Thursday, November 20, 2014

A New Beginning-- thoughts and reflections from last night's midweek Vesper's service

I was able to attend the Mid-Week Vespers service at Hixson UMC last night.  I wasn't able to attend last week due to the Church Conference at the church I attend, but that was a blessing to attend because I was able to speak with our District Superintendent.  I was also encouraged by reports shared that evening by members of our congregation and the District Superintendent.

Though I didn't write about it, the week prior at mid-week vespers turned out to be very special to me because there was a God-appointment there for me that I knew nothing about until I showed up.  I often help with the service in varying roles as needed.  That night there was no one to read Scripture, so I was asked to read the Scripture portions and glad to do it.  Before the service began, a friend that I hadn't seen in a while entered the sanctuary.  Last spring she had told me how meaningful these services were to her.  It was neat to see her.  The God-appointment was with her.  We stayed in the sanctuary talking after the service for a while.  It was a blessing to sit and listen and share with her.

Back to last night...

The theme was "A New Beginning" from A Guide to Prayer For All Who Seek God..  Two readings from the reading reflections were shared during the service.  One was by Rueben Job (p.401-402) and the other by William Shannon (403). 

It is always good to enter the sanctuary, to sing the reflective songs, to listen to the Scriptures and reflections, to have time in silence.  This worship service allows my spirit to reconnect with my body, by taking the time to breathe, and allowing my body to rest for a few moments, I find that my soul is always refreshed and refilled after the short time of worship.

The quote above by William H. Shannon touched several connection points in my life and caused me to reflect on change, reality, and prayer.  William H. Shannon is a new name for me, so I researched him and learned that he was a Thomas Merton scholar who passed in 2012.  You can read the homily shared at his funeral here.

The songs that we sang last night can be seen in the bulletin in the second picture shown above:

"As We Gather"

"Three in One Praise"
"Holy Ground"
"The Steadfast Love of the Lord"

"Live Christ" 

The incense had been lit prior to when I entered the sanctuary and the rising smoke was visible.  That always brings to mind the Scripture passage Psalm 141:2--"Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice."

I appreciate the opportunity to rest my heart, mind, body, and soul in a worship experience.  It is also a wonderful opportunity for me as it isn't the local church where I worship, but another church near my home.  That allows me to worship within the connectional system, as it is another United Methodist congregation.  If it were a different denomination, that would  allow me to worship in an ecumenical way, and that would be a wonderful opportunity too.

I won't quote the entire Rueben Job quote, but I will share this from the first paragraph: "Life itself provides a constant opportunity to grow, and to grow is to become new, to have a new beginning.  How is God calling you to begin anew today?" (401)

Blessings on your new beginnings, 


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Silence, Solitude, and Sunshine-- Time Apart at Chester Frost Park

I took some time this morning for "time apart". Some time for some silence and solitude, some time away from the house, away from studies.  Time into the outdoors and creation, into a space that would allow me to refocus, refuel, and re-energize.

Though it was really only for an hour, it was a perfect break, a wonderful get away.  Short, but sweet you might say. ☺

Chester Frost Park is close by and one of my go-to spots.  It is a county campground on the lake (TN River) that has campground spots (tents and RVs), a beach area, picnic areas, fishing, playgrounds, pavilions for rent, docks, and great grounds for walking.

Today I focused on rocks, docks, the playground, walking, the ducks, playing my flute, listening to the sounds of nature, observing, breathing, taking some pictures, and just "being". 

There were some gorgeous trees and flowers that caught my attention. 

There were some rock formations that stood out to me too.

There were also some birds in the water that were just floating around enjoying their time on the water.  One bird was just sitting majestically overlooking the horizon.

It was a great time apart.  It definitely filled my soul and refreshed my being.   I can't say that there was anything I enjoyed more than the other... I enjoyed it all! From sliding down the slide, to taking pictures, to walking, to playing my flute, to watching the birds, to being on the dock, to soaking in the sunshine....

I don't know about your life schedule these days, but for me it takes being intentional to have silence and solitude time.  Oh, that it could just "happen".  But, that is rarely the case.  With my basic life responsibilities, studies, and goals for commissioning, life is a tad busy.  But, I know that my soul requires silence, solitude, time to be still. 

In fact, I'm outside on the patio this evening writing this.  It has gotten dark and the light of the computer screen shines much brighter than the orange and red glow of the setting sun over the horizon to my left.  A gentle breeze blows through the leaves, causing them to rustle for a moment.  The birds and crickets are singing their night song.  Dogs bark in the distance and the voices of children from the cul-de-sac below ring up through the woods between us.

But, there is peace in this moment too.  This, too, is a time apart.  A time to reflect.  A time to pause. 

I am grateful for these times today.  I recognize that the fuel tank needs refilling daily or I take a risk of running on fumes.  For now, it is well with my soul and my soul magnifies the Lord, the Creator of creation.

And you, could you use some time apart to walk, to play, to listen, to observe, to write, to ______???  You fill in the blank.

Blessings on your journey,


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

From Doubt to Belief..... readings and reflections for the journey

In preparation for tonight's mid-week Vesper's service, I turned to this week's readings in A Guide to Prayer For All Who Seek God.  The title?  "From Doubt to Belief".

As I glanced over the Scripture selections for the week and read several of the choices (John 10:31-42, Psalm 146, and Mark 12:28-34), though there were encouraging and admonishing words in all, the Mark passage is the one that stood out to me at this time.

Mark 12:28-34 (NRSV)

28 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; 33 and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.

This passage may be the one that stood out to me those verses are ones I desire to live by.  Or, it could be that I need to live more faithfully into these verses.  Or, it could be a "both/and" answer.  Likely, it's the latter.

Doubt is a normal part of belief.  It is normal to have doubts, to ask questions, to seek answers along the journey of belief.  Doubt can come because of many things and reveal itself in many forms, yet the one thing to remember is to not fear it, reject it, or deny it.  It has its place on the journey.  Working through doubt allows one's belief to become more clear.

In the reflection readings for this week, several of the quotes spoke to me.  I will share them.  Maybe there is something for someone else in these words.

Rueben Job writes:

     "We move away from doubt at out own pace and with our own set of doubts and beliefs to master.  While our first step is a matter of belief and ultimate trust in God, there are many other and some even more difficult steps to take in our movement from doubt to belief.
     One step along the journey that causes many people to stop and struggle is the step of actually believing God loves them and that they can be lovable in God's sight.  This more than any other step along the journey makes men and women, young and old, stumble and fall from faith to doubt.  Why is it so hard for us to believe that God's love really is unconditional and that we should imitate God's love not only for others but also for ourselves?
     Perhaps we have regarded self-centered behavior too harshly.  We are unwilling or unable to give ourselves the same gentle grace that God offers us and that we believe should be offered to others.  Leap from doubt to belief and remember that God loves you, delights in you, and yearns for your response of faith in God and in God's creation." (389-390)

Another quote that stood out to me is by Joan Chittister from Illuminated Life:

     "Life, the contemplative knows, is a process.  It is not that all the elements of life, mundane as they may be, do not matter.  On the contrary, to the contemplative everything matters.  Everything speaks of God, and God is both in and beyond everything.
     Having the faith to take life one piece at a time--to live it in the knowledge that there is something of God in this for me now, here, at this moment--is of the essence of happiness.  It is not that God is a black box full of tests and trials and treats.  It is that life is a step on the way to a God who goes the way with us.  However far, however perilous." (391-392)

And lastly, a quote by Tilda Norberg from Ashes Transformed:

     "The more healing I experience, the more I understand one of the most magnificent truths of the Christian faith: God can turn our worst pain into the source of our giftedness.  It is no accident that my life's work involves helping people invite Jesus into the worst moments of their lives." (393)

These are just a sampling of the reflection readings and the Scriptures for the week.  They are the ones that stood out to me at this time.  The others might meet you more where you are on your journey.  You might consider using A Guide to Prayer For All Who Seek God (The Upper Room) in your faith journey.

As you read the reflection readings above, what stands out to you?  What speaks to you?  Where do the words intersect with where you are on your journey?

For me, I am reminded that God is with me, every step of the way.... even when it doesn't "feel like it".  I am reminded that I can experience God in the midst of any situation and that God does turn pain into something that is used for the good of the Kingdom and God's glory.

Here is a Charles Wesley hymn that I ran across in A Guide to Prayer For Ministers and Other Servants (334). 

"Father, I Stretch My Hands to Thee"

[Link from]

Father, I stretch my hands to Thee,
No other help I know;
If Thou withdraw Thyself from me,
Ah! Whether shall I go?

On Thy dear Son I now believe
O let me feel Thy power
And all my varied wants relieve
In this accepted hour

Author of faith! to Thee I lift
My weary longing eyes
O let me now receive this gift
My soul without it dies

Surely Thou canst not let me die;
O speak, and I shall live;
And here I will unwearied lie,
Till Thou Thy Spirit give.

How would my fainting soul rejoice
Could I but see Thy face
Now let me hear Thy quickening voice
And taste Thy pardoning grace

I do believe, I now believe
That Jesus died for me.
And that He shed His precious blood
From sin to set me free

Fellow journeyer, in closing, I leave with you a poem I read in the same week's lesson that I read the Charles Wesley hymn in A Guide to Prayer For Ministers and Other Servants (331-332)The poem is by Susan Ruach.

"A New Way of Struggling"
To stuggle used to be
To grab with both hands
and shake
and twist
and turn
and push
and shove and not give in
But wrest an answer from it all
As Jacob did a blessing.
But there is another way
To struggle with an issue, a question-
Simply to jump
into the abyss
and find ourselves
being led
slowly and gently
but surely
to the answers God has for us-
to watch the answers unfold
before our eyes and still
to be a part of the unfolding
But oh! the trust
necessary for this new way!
Not to be always reaching out
For the old hand-holds.

Blessings on your journey,


Monday, November 3, 2014

A multifaceted time out....making time to rest and listen

This past week I took several "time outs" or breaks, if you want to call them that.  After I finished my paper for Pastoral Care two days early and had worked on Hebrew quite a bit, I needed some quiet time. 

I was able to attend the Wednesday night Mid-week Vespers at Hixson UMC and that space for quiet, prayer, and reflection was a balm to my soul. 

I took several solo walks at the Greenway Farm which allowed me exercise plus the silence and solitude time. 

I rested.  I stayed at home more than normal, even skipping TaeKwonDo, a Bible Study, and a meeting.  Some of that was so I could get that Pastoral Care paper written and some of that was because I wrote the paper. 

Along with studies, life has its challenges and it can be overwhelming at times.  That's why I am grateful for "time outs".  Time to stop and listen.  Time to remember and/or be reminded of what is truly important.

I am glad that I've learned to take them.  I may not always take them when needed, but I continue to listen to my body and God. 

This past week God has encouraged me through songs, through the body of Christ, through prayer, through Creation, and writings (Nouwen's Bread for the Journey, Jesus Calling (October 31), quotes from A Guide to Prayer For All Who Seek God, through worship, through Holy Communion, and through Scripture.  I was even blessed (though a little surprised) to hear praise music playing in the background this morning at my doctor's office.  I was able to take time to "be still" right there in the doctor's office and enjoy some praise music. 

For several days it has been on my mind to pick up Macrina Wiederkehr's Abide: Keeping Vigil with the Word of God and see what God might have for me there.  I didn't particularly like the message that awaited me where I had left off, but I decided that was the message I needed to read and digest.

The message?  "Called to be Holy" from the section The Beautiful Struggle of Daily Life.  I could definitely relate to the 'struggle of daily life' part.... but I wasn't so sure how I was going to accept the 'call to be holy' part. 

The Scripture reference: 1 Peter 1:13-25.  I looked it up in the NRSV, The Message, and the CEV on  I decided to go with the CEV:

13 Be alert and think straight. Put all your hope in how kind God will be to you when Jesus Christ appears. 14 Behave like obedient children. Don’t let your lives be controlled by your desires, as they used to be. 15 Always live as God’s holy people should, because God is the one who chose you, and he is holy. 16 That’s why the Scriptures say, “I am the holy God, and you must be holy too.”
17 You say that God is your Father, but God doesn’t have favorites! He judges all people by what they do. So you must honor God while you live as strangers here on earth. 18 You were rescued from the useless way of life that you learned from your ancestors. But you know that you were not rescued by such things as silver or gold that don’t last forever. 19 You were rescued by the precious blood of Christ, that spotless and innocent lamb. 20 Christ was chosen even before the world was created, but because of you, he did not come until these last days. 21 And when he did come, it was to lead you to have faith in God, who raised him from death and honored him in a glorious way. That’s why you have put your faith and hope in God.
22 You obeyed the truth, and your souls were made pure. Now you sincerely love each other. But you must keep on loving with all your heart. 23 Do this because God has given you new birth by his message that lives on forever. 24 The Scriptures say,
“Humans wither like grass,
and their glory fades
    like wild flowers.
Grass dries up,
and flowers fall
    to the ground.
25 But what the Lord has said
    will stand forever.”
Our good news to you is what the Lord has said.

There is much to chew on here, to digest.  As I prayerfully read through these verses, the end of verse 17 caught my attention: "...honor God while you live as strangers here on earth."  Easier said than done.  But that is my heart's desire. 

As I looked at Macrina's words on the chapter, several things caught my attention.

"Our call to holiness is, in reality, a call to obedience." (112)

"Thus the first call is to listen." (112)

"We listen to our desire to be the person God is calling us to be, in Christ.  Our faithfulness to this listening is the beginning of holiness.  When we look at holiness in this way, it is easy to see that holiness is a process." (112)

"Our sojourn on this earth can pull us in many directions." (113)

To avoid being taken off the path, we must abide and listen carefully to and for the One Voice.  For me, this requires taking "time outs" so that I can hear more clearly. 

Macrina closes with this: "Remember, then, that we are holy and we have been asked to love on another intensely.  Let us bend our ears in obedient listening to this call to live forever in the abiding Word of God." (114)

May it be so!

Blessings on your journey,