Learning from a 5 year old

We recently changed where we sit in church. If I had known how much fun it would be to sit behind Jacob, I would have moved years ago.

Jacob is 110% boy. His serious 5-year-old face belies his enthusiasm, but the twinkle in his eye reveals all. He has the kind of energy that people try to bottle and sell under brand names like Monster and 5 Hour Energy, except his is all-natural and can’t be bottled. While he is constantly moving, he is also constantly listening.

Yesterday, he was doing a speedy side-slide shuffle along his little section of the pew while the scripture, Micah 7:18-20, was being read.

Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
    and passing over transgression
    for the remnant of his inheritance?
He does not retain his anger for ever,
    because he delights in steadfast love.
He will again have compassion on us;
    he will tread our iniquities underfoot.
You will cast all our sins
    into the depths of the sea.
You will show faithfulness to Jacob [emphasis mine]
    and steadfast love to Abraham,
as you have sworn to our fathers
    from the days of old.

When the words “to Jacob” were read, little Jacob stopped dead in his tracks.

“To Jacob,” he said out loud. “Why me?”

I laughed. Why me indeed? Shouldn’t that be the response every one of us gives to a passage about God’s forgiveness and faithfulness?

IMG_4944Later, Jacob was lying on the pew, zooming two pencils over his head like little airplanes, as the pastor was finishing the Great Thanksgiving and issuing the invitation to receive communion.  Upon hearing the words, “Come, the table is ready,” Jacob leaped to his feet, clapped his hands, and said, “Wait for me!”

The church we attend welcomes children to partake in communion.  Communion can, at times, be a bit chaotic. There may be some who may look down on this practice, but I have found it refreshing. I fully understand Jacob’s joy at going forward to receive the bread and the wine.

In the words of The Great Thanksgiving,

Gracious God, pour out Your Holy Spirit upon us
and upon these Your gifts of bread and wine.
Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ
that we may be for the world
the body of Christ, redeemed by His blood.

By your Spirit draw us together in one body
and join us to Christ the Lord,
that we may remain His glad and faithful people
until we feast with Him in glory.

I receive the bread and the wine with sobriety, and also with great joy. Communion is not just a time to reflect back on Christ’s sacrifice, but it’s a time to look forward to a day when we will feast at a great banquet with Him. I love that.

If you think church is boring (not that it is for me), look for a Jacob to sit behind.  He can teach you a lot.

Ineffable

Aviary Photo_130529384584576130For Christmas, a dear friend gave me a journal.  It has become my prayer journal, but not your typical prayer journal, where prayer requests are written. No, I write prayers in it, a new one for every week. The prayers come from a variety of sources and are written by a variety of authors ranging from St. Augustine to Tozer to my brother, Stewart.

Last week I chose a prayer from the Syrian Clementine Liturgy called A Prayer for Peace.  I was concerned about the strife in the Middle East and was touched that this prayer, probably from the 5th century, also concerned itself with that.

Plus, it had the word “ineffable.”

I love words.  Always have. Always will.

Ineffable — what a great word.

Ineffable is one of those words that I sort of knew what it meant, but not really.  I looked it up in the dictionary and learned that ineffable means not effable.  Thank you, Mr. Webster.

What, then, is effable? Effable is “able to be described with words.”

Ineffable, therefore, is that which cannot be described with words, and usually refers to something too wonderful for words.  Like God.

Aviary Photo_130529385440450075Here’s where God is funny — and by funny I mean all-seeing, amazing, and knowing why this was the perfect prayer for that week.  There was an abyss in the prayer.  The prayer begins,

O God,  you are the ineffable Ocean of love,
the unfathomable Abyss of peace …

Who knew that my news-feed would be abyss-full following the news of Robin Williams’ death?

Depression was described over and over in news stories as an abyss, an apt description if ever there was one.  I know, because I, too, have stood on its precipice, feeling the earth crumbling under my feet, knowing that even a breath too deep could push me into that abyss.

The abyss is dark and black and unfathomable.  It may even be ineffable.  Those who have experienced it may very well say that it is ineffable in the darkest sense of that word.

But, you see, God wanted to remind me that if there is a dark and scary abyss, so there is also an abyss that is Him, an abyss of peace.

While the black hole abyss is ineffable in its darkness, so is He, Jehovah, I AM THAT I AM, also ineffable, and He is an Ocean of love.

In the time that it has taken me to ponder this thing (days and days), the news stories have moved on to other tragedies, equally abysmal, equally unfathomable — Amish girls kidnapped and innocence stolen, a black youth shot, bloodthirsty jihadists slaughtering Christians.

Yet God is unchanged — an abyss of peace, and an ineffable ocean of love.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.
Psalm 139: 6

Loaves and Fishes Revisited

I inwardly groaned when the minister started talking on Sunday.  The text was the feeding of the 5,000 from the book of Matthew.

IMG_2737[1]Everyone has their hot button issues.  One of my personal hot button church issues is the handling of the story about Jesus feeding the 5,000. I wrote about it Loaves and Fishes.

So there I was, sitting in church this week, listening to a story of how the people shared, and the crowd was fed.  The bottom line for the sermon was that when we all share what little we have, everyone has more than enough, too.  It’s a charming little sentiment.  And quite possibly true.

But no one will ever convince me that the story of Jesus feeding the 5000 is about sharing.

I had just read the story earlier in the week — the version in Mark’s gospel (Mark 6:30-44) — and noticed something I hadn’t seen before.

In case you don’t know it, I’ll summarize.  Jesus and his disciples and a crowd of about 5000 people were off in the middle of nowhere.  So when the disciples told Jesus that the people were hungry, and his response was, “You give them something to eat,” they probably thought that he was crazy. Where would they get all that food?  To make a long story short, the two fish and five loaves (with a little help from Jesus) fed the crowd and twelve baskets of leftovers were gathered afterwards.

That’s pretty much the story.

The next thing that happened, though, was that Jesus sent the disciples off in a boat because he wanted to be by himself.  After he had a little alone time, he started walking across the water.  In fact, he meant to just slip past them, but they saw him and it scared them. They had been fighting a headwind all night. Seeing Jesus walk on the water in the midst of that, well, I can understand why they would be frightened.

Here’s the rest of the story as told in Mark:

But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”  And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.

They had just witnessed the feeding of the 5000 AND saw Jesus walk on water.  Still, they were “utterly astounded because they didn’t understand about the loaves.”

I guess if the disciples didn’t understand about the loaves, I may need to cut these preachers a little slack when they don’t understand either.

They didn’t understand about the loaves.  Their hearts were hardened.

What things do I not understand?  In what ways is my heart hardened?

A Year of Listening – 2013 in review

I dubbed 2013 “A Year of Listening”.  The idea was to pay attention to what was being said around me and to me.

The most important listening I wanted to do was to listen to God. No, I’m not saying that God speaks to me in an audible voice, but He does speak through scriptures, and I often think the little nudgings on my heart are from Him.

One scripture that I pondered in 2013 was Genesis 3:9 – 10, the conversation is between God and Adam.

But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?”

And the man answered, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”

Over the course of the year, I began jotting down times that I heard God.  I used the format that Adam used.  “I heard the sound of You (fill in the circumstances), and I was (fill in how I felt), because (fill in why), and I (fill in my response).  Here are a few.

Early on, I wrote this:

I heard the sound of You whispering in my heart, and I was surprised, because it was unexpected, and I listened.

Make no mistake.  God is alive and well;  He does speak to us.

One day, I had some terrible ugly words spoken to me, and a friend spoke words that were a salve on the wound.  I wrote this:

I heard the sound of You in a friend’s words, and I was comforted, because I was hurting, and I was blessed.

Contrary to the face we put out to the world, sometimes there is friction and contention in our family.  In the context of that, I wrote this:

I couldn’t hear You when there was arguing, and my head hurt, because of the discord, and I was grieved.

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sisters

One of this mother’s greatest joys is hearing her children having fun together. I don’t remember exactly what was happening when I wrote this one because, thankfully, there are many such occasions.

I heard the sound of You in laughter, and I laughed too, because You are Joy, and I was cheered.

One of the things I re-added into my life in 2013 was playing my flute in church.  As long as the choir director doesn’t get tired of me sitting beside her and playing the hymns, I’ll keep doing it.  I feel like it’s my way to worship.  I think I wrote this, however, after riding in the car alone one day, blasting the music and singing along with it.

I heard the sound of You in music, and I sang out loud, because You love a joyful noise, and I love You.

Last night, Bud said, “2013 has been an odd year.”  I looked at him because I wasn’t quite sure what he was getting at, and then he elbowed me with a smile, “Get it?”  Bud doesn’t always play with words, so I wasn’t prepared.  I guess I need to listen for that.

It hit me as I was writing this, that one of God’s most important messages to me is one He delivers nearly every day through my youngest daughter.  She wraps her arms around me and showers me with kisses.  When she’s done, she turns her cheek to me so that I can kiss her too.  She leaves notes on my pillow and sends me email messages.  They all say roughly the same thing.  Here’s one exactly as she sent it.

I LOVE YOU AND DAD MORE THAN ANYTHING IN THE HOLE WORLD!!! 
:* :* :* AND I KNOW YOU GUYS LOVE ME TOO!!!! :)
Sent from my NOOK

I can just imagine God saying those same words to me.

All in all, 2013 has been a growing year for me. Listening is an art, and listening to God takes special ears.

Surrounded by Holiness

I’m in an on-line book group reading Robert Capon’s book, The Supper of the Lamb.  Ostensibly, it’s a cookbook. He tells us how to cook “lamb for eight persons four times.”

The book is subtitled “A Culinary Reflection.”  That may be more accurate.

Truth be told, I don’t even like lamb.  My mother used to fix it on occasion as leg of lamb, or try to trick us into eating it by making lamb-burgers.  No matter what trick she used, I could always taste and didn’t like it.

You might think it was the fact that I watched the sheep loaded into a truck on four hooves and come back in white paper packages destined for the freezer.  A good-sized animal fit in a rather small box.  But knowing the animal before and after never stopped me from liking chicken, and those were dispensed of right at home.

My father once had a box in his office of newspaper clippers and other assorted papers.  I asked him about it and he said, “This is what’s left of a man’s life,” because they were the essential papers saved by my grandfather.  That box and the box that the lamb would come home in were about the same size. I still don’t quite know what to make of that.

I’m only half-way through The Supper of the Lamb.  The book is not really about cooking lamb.

He spends a chapter on cutting an onion, but it is not so that we will, in the end, cut our onions differently, but that we will see our onions differently.

The fit, the colors, the smell, the tensions, the tastes, the textures, the lines, the shapes are a response, not to some forgotten decree that there may as well be onions as turnips, but to His present delight — His intimate and immediate joy in all you have seen, and in the thousand other wonders you do not even suspect.  With Peter, the onion says, Lord, it is good for us to be here.  Yes, says God. Tov.  Very good.

I wondered, after reading that chapter, if I would ever be able to quickly cut an onion again.

IMG_2715[1]Then yesterday I read his chapter on knives.  I had a lot of cooking to do yesterday. My two favorite knives both have plastic handles, and would probably not come anywhere near his description of fine cutlery.  Yet, for me, they suffice.

It hit me, purple knife in hand, the book really isn’t about cooking lamb, or cutting onions, or the importance of good knives. It’s about the holiness that surrounds us.  It’s in everything we do.

Early on, our moderator had asked this:

What do I know about (because I care about) to this degree of detail/expertise? What does “knowing” to that degree require?

That question has been at the back of my mind for weeks.

God has given each of us a passion for something or things.  He who is the God of the Onion, is also the God of the Water, something I think about each time I slide into the pool to teach swim lessons.

“In Him we live and move and have our being…” (Acts 17:28)  Just as I teach children how to move and breathe in the water, God calls us to move and breathe in Him, in a new way.  It’s a spiritual concept that would have been lost on me had I not looked for the holiness in a swim lesson.

Holiness surrounds every day.  In onions.  In knives.  In swimming pools. In birthdays, and adoptions, and challenging jobs, and folding laundry.

The world may be broken, but it is also holy.

Look for it today.

Beauty in the Storm

Several years ago I left a comment on someone’s blog about Alzheimer’s being a gift. It led to a flurry of comments about how awful a disease like Alzheimer’s is and how it cannot possible be perceived as a gift.  Alzheimer’s is indeed a horrible devastating illness that whittles a person in so many painful little knife-nicks.  Slowly the person you love disappears.

Yet I stand with my original assertion. Alzheimer’s was a gift to me.  It gave me the opportunity to love my mother in a complete way, forgiving any little hurts and rifts that may have existed between us.  It gave my father the opportunity to proclaim to anyone watching, “This is love.”  He did it — no, he does it —  not with words, but with actions.  It is a beautiful thing to behold.  A gift.

This morning, when I looked at the news, I saw a picture of the typhoon hitting the Philippines.  It was one of those satellite images, color-coded to show wind strength. It was beautiful.  TYPHOON-HAIYANI shook my head at myself.  It seemed wrong to think of a destructive typhoon as something beautiful.

But there is a strange wild beauty all around us.  It is in the storm, and it is the rebirth after the storm.  It is in the ravages of illness, and it is in the healing that comes, in this life or the next.  It is in the struggles and the contentious relationships in our lives, and it is in the working through of those very relationships.

It is God, the not-tame Lion, who gives, not always what we want, but always what we need.

If we look for Him, He is there.

God’s Arm

O Lord, be gracious to us;  we wait for you.
Be our arm every morning….

Isaiah 33:2

Behold, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him….

Isaiah 40:10

In 2003, Jenny Thompson, the Olympic swimmer, came to Cooperstown.  She was in medical school at the time at Columbia University, but their students often come to Bassett Hospital in Cooperstown for a rotation.

The kids from the swim team, my own children included, would gather on the balcony to watch her swim during the adult lap time.  Sometimes they would sit outside the weight room and watch her train on the elliptical or the step machine.  It was an amazing experience for everyone.

Jenny was so patient with her stalkers.  She just went about her business, as if she were no different than you or I.

Toward the end of her time in Cooperstown, she came to swim team practice one day to talk with the kids.  About twenty kids sat adoringly at her feet while she told a few stories about her experiences and then answered questions.

One of the girls from the high school team asked her if she would “flex” for them.

“What?” Jenny asked.  Obviously this was not a question she got every day.

“Will you flex for us?” Becky asked again, a little embarrassed that maybe this wasn’t the sort of thing one asked an Olympic swimmer.

“Why don’t you come on up here and we can flex together,” Jenny responded.  She was definitely a class act.

And they flexed.

That was the picture that came to my mind this morning, thinking about God’s arm.

Can you imagine what it would be like if He flexed?

God — who is Creator, Redeemer, King.

God — who is immortal, invisible, God only wise.

God — who is Idea, Energy, Power.

I cannot imagine the ripples across the universe and time if He chose to flex, but He is our arm every morning.  How amazing is that?