Hope in God

O Lord, we wait for you, 
our God who helps and protects us.
In your presence we discover joy. 
We entrust ourselves to your care. 
Pour your faithful love upon us 
as we place our hope in you.

(Psalm 33:20-22, my paraphrase)

As we transition from 2016 to 2017, I am given to thinking about the past year and looking to the future. What were our best moments and greatest challenges? Where are we headed in 2017?

movingHistory will remember 2016 as the year of Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump, but in our home we will also remember it as the Year of the Great Move. My husband and I spent most the year transitioning from the Twin Cities area to a less populated, more rural place in west-central Minnesota. We gradually sorted our belongings with an eye for what was really needed, prepared and sold our home. This process made us think about our dreams and goals for the next chapter of our lives.

In the midst of the long transition, I was looking for part-time work in some form of pastoral ministry. As it turned out, there was a small Christian community whose pastor had just left, and they needed someone to lead worship.  Because of our move, I could not become their pastor, but I did lead worship a number of times–and the community ordained me as an ecumenical minister of Christ.

And so it is, I write to you now as your sister in Christ and one who has been commissioned to serve others as an ordained minister.  This idea of “women priests” or women ministers is something I had wrestled with internally for many years, often doing my very best to resist and deny my own calling (!).

ordination-even-smaller-copy

Now 2017 is just beginning after a year-long transition to a new place and a deepening calling to minister to God’s people. I have rented a new office in Alexandria (MN) and will be continuing the spiritual direction ministry there (and on Skype). I will also be continuing writing and painting in the studio portion of my office.

As for the rest, I cannot see the future, but I believe that God will use my ordination for a divine purpose. I love the area I’m now living in. For the next few months I will be listening and learning about the needs of people here.

The new year holds much promise, but also a lot of fear for many Americans who are feeling nervous about the transition of leadership and about the direction our country might take in the future. I’ve been trying to think how to approach this new situation (it feels new to me) and I don’t have a magic wand to wave over the situation.

The thought I have today is that no matter what happens in the world, God is still with us. We might ignore God or turn away from God’s wisdom, love, and mercy, but God is still present, witnessing our struggles, sharing in our pain (as Jesus did), encouraging us to make wise choices, and watching over us with loving care.

44dcfc01a695be50b1f0edcd3ec3c2e0-hope-in-godAs we begin 2017, I choose to hope in God and to do what I can to make the world a better place.  I do not expect that everything will be easy or fair or successful or even peaceful.  Although there is much good, beauty, and love in the world, there is also selfishness, greed, cruelty, hate and any number of evils.  We humans are simultaneously both saints and sinners (thank you, Martin Luther), myself included.

Because humans are fallible creatures, we place our hope in God. 

The God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope.  –Romans 15:13

Until next time, Amen! 

 

 

 

 

 

My sheep hear my voice, says Jesus

I’m working on a sermon for Sunday, and pondering these words of Jesus:

Bon_pasteur_BnF_Ethiopien_389_fol_1v-large--Good Shepherd--Vanderbilt

“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.”
                                                                      –Jesus (in John 10: 27-28a)

I know almost nothing about sheep. They give wool and go “baa..” Children play sheep in Christmas pageants. I may have petted a baby lamb at the zoo sometime, maybe (I’m not even sure!).

People of biblical times, however, would have been familiar with sheep, shepherds, and the sheep-herding process. Their meals included sheep cheese and lamb. Their clothing and blankets were woven from the sheep’s wool. The lamb also was a symbol of God’s deliverance during Passover, and associated with other religious rites.

Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice…” and the sheep follow that voice.  In those days, as the shepherds grazed their sheep, the sheep from various flocks would intermingle while the shepherds chatted or lunched at the watering hole. When it was time to return home in the evening, each shepherd had a special way of calling or whistling to his sheep, and they would quite naturally separate into the right groups.

Below is a video of a modern-day shepherd, calling to his sheep. Notice how the sheep magically appear out of the hillside mist. The sheep hear the shepherd’s voice and come running:

Here is another current-day shepherd. She has her own way of calling her sheep. Notice how the sheep are reluctant to cross the little patch of water, but her constant calling reassures them it’s safe:

When Jesus calls us, where will he be leading us?  We might have to come down off the mountainside to be feed in the meadow. We might have to jump over little puddles or even walk through the “darkest valley” (Psalm 23), but even then Jesus is with us, leading us beyond, to a better place.

Jesus knows us well, each one of us individually. This knowing is not a mere intellectual knowing, but an experiential knowing  from being with us, and loving each one of us, all along the way of life’s journey. Jesus is lovingly present in our midst at all times, so he knows our special talents, challenges, past joys and future hopes.

Jesus calls to you, and to me:  Come here, my beloved… Come!

Where is Jesus leading you (and me)  today?  That is, what might Jesus be inviting you to do in your life?  Anything new? Anything needs changing in yourself?  Any way you might assist another?

Dare you go where Jesus leads? Will you trust that the Good Shepherd will be with you, lovingly, through thick and thin?  (I’m preaching to myself here…)

Amiens26-large--Good Shepherd image-- Creative Commons licence--Vanderbilt Library

 

Will you follow?

 

 

Image credits: 

Top image: Unidentified. Jesus as shepherd with the lost sheep, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55688 [retrieved April 15, 2016]. Original source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bon_pasteur_BnF_Ethiopien_389_fol_1v.jpg.

Bottom image: Le Breton, Jacques ; Gaudin, Jean. Jesus the Good Shepherd, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=51560 [retrieved April 15, 2016]. Original source: Collection of Anne Richardson Womack. 

Carrots, Lent, and New Life

In Minnesota, winter has been easier than usual this year, but despite that, last week the gray skies got to me a few days. I was sick of everything, and for no particular reason. I read about how people in the days before electric light slept long hours in the winter–and I thought, that’s me: I want to crawl into a cocoon and sleep until spring.

Then the weekend came, and we were out of carrots for making lunches, when I remembered something tucked away in the coldest part of our basement. I brought it up to the kitchen, opened up the box, and suddenly their was a lovely burst of the scent of … are you ready for this? ….  SOIL!

Box from cold, dark storage
Box from cold, dark storage

Before I lived in the Upper Midwest, I did not realize what a treasure this is… In the March/April thaw, one of the most pleasant fragrances, often at an unconscious level, is the scent of the soil drifting on the warmer spring wind. The ground is no longer completely frozen, and this scent of soil brings to mind thoughts of gardens and flowers and mowing and sweet corn–and the heart skips a beat with excitement.

Soil: catch the scent in winter!
Soil: catch the scent in winter!

However, there was something else, there, too. Something we had packed away in the sandy soil last October. We dug out these messy-looking cylinders, scrubbed them up, and voila! Fresh carrots!

Yummy carrots!
Yummy carrots!

We think of winter as a time when “nothing is happening” in that soil, when everything is “dead”… and indeed, there is a lot of death happening–but not all is lost. The soil is rejuvenating itself.

Ancient peoples in northern climes must have been in awe of spring returning, a kind of miracle of sun and warmth. The seeds sprout and the cycle of life circles around again.

It’s no wonder Lent, Passover, and Easter are celebrated at this time of year. Indeed the word “Lent” means “springtime”… and all those Easter eggs, baby bunnies and lambs are symbolic of life renewing itself, once again, in the springtime.

Our souls, indeed our whole persons, undergo many transitions and “spring times” in life. We seek inner growth and deeper healing from old wounds. We may deepen current relationships even as we form new relationships. We search for new meaning and fresh ways of loving and serving others.

Will you pray with me?

O God,

When the darkness of winter is on us,
inspire us to hope in your springtime.
When the snow becomes drab and muddy,
remind us that new life is just around the corner.
When our hearts are “old” and “dusty,”
plant your seeds of love and
bring us to life once again.
This we pray in the name of Jesus
and in the communion of the Holy Spirit, 

Amen! 

 

 

Psalm 1–Delight in pondering the ways of God

If your town is like mine, it has been a very cold, icy, snowy winter. This week my hubby is shoveling snow–off the roof!  (We have to prevent “ice dams” that could cause water to seep inside the house.)

At times like this, it’s nourishing to feast one’s eyes on the green in this picture:

Tree beside stream--photo by Julie McCarty

(click on photo to enlarge)

I was reminded of this photo while reading Psalm 1 this morning (sorry, the margins aren’t what I wanted):

Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
        planted by streams of water,
        which yield their fruit in its season. . .  (NRSV)

In my prayer journal, I have found it sometimes helps to paraphrase or adapt bible verses for our day and age. When I put something in my own words, it forces me to think about it more deeply. (As a straight paraphrase, one would stick to the text, considering what the author intended. As a prayerful meditation, one can be a little creative.) 

In my case, I reworked the words for my own Christ-centered beliefs. I have respect for the psalms just as they were written, and I know that not everyone will agree with how I have rephrased it. However, that’s one nice thing about a prayer journal: you can explore ideas without worrying so much about what others might think.

Green tree--photo by Julie McCartyHere’s how I adapted this passage:

Blessed is she who delights
in the way of Christ,
pondering it day and night.
She is like a tree
planted beside a stream,
drinking in the waters of the Spirit,
bearing fruit, with God’s help,
in due time.  

I encourage you to try this way of praying. Study a bible passage and then rewrite it in your own words–just for yourself. Seek to really listen to God’s word–and apply it to your own life.

Whatever way you like to pray, may the good Lord bless you this day, with the nutritious waters of the divine Spirit–and the renewed hope that spring is just around the corner.

Until next time, Amen! 

Where’s the fruit? Guest post by Barbara Keffer

sacredgroundspirit

Fig TreeIn the past, I would read the parable of the fig tree that we hear this year on the third Sunday in Lent, and feel shame.

What have I accomplished with my life? When I measure with the values of our culture, not much.

As a child, I was told that I would accomplish big things in the world.  I could do or be anything I wanted.  I thought I would be a chemist and devote my life to science. I took in the high expectations people had for me, and excelled in school in high school and college. But then, as faith became more important to me, I found myself making choices that led more to experiences of vulnerability, and sometimes insecurity rather than accomplishment as I saw it.  Parenting, taking in foster teenagers, working as a spiritual director or therapist, took me to the edges of what I…

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The Waiting Heart

Mailboxes wait. . . and wait. . . and wait.

Mailboxes in snow--by Julie McCarty--Eagan MN USA

Mailboxes serve as the “waiters” of messages, providing a space for something specific to happen. They don’t appear to do anything, and yet mailboxes are serving the purpose for which they were created.

So, too, the contemplative heart waits upon the Lord, dwelling in prayer, being observant, listening, pondering the ways of God–doing precisely what the Lord intended.

Wait for the Lord, take courage;
          be stout-hearted, wait for the Lord.   
Psalm 27:14.

Will you pray with me?

Lord, we know you are always with us, listening to our prayers and guiding our ways. Help us and all who “wait” to do so with patience and courage. May we truly listen to others this day–not only with our ears but also our hearts. May the words we speak be filled with your compassion. Come, Holy Spirit, guide us in all your ways! 

Until next time, Amen!

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