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. 

Children Explain Prayer

At my church this summer, we’ve had a sermon series on prayer. One major theme has been that prayer is primarily about relationship–our relationship with God.  In the very first sermon, we explored how Adam and Eve “hid” from God after they sinned, and yet, God still reached out to them. God knew what had happened, and yet called out to them, asking why they were hiding.

Like Adam and Eve, sometimes we “hide” from God, afraid or avoiding prayer because we think we don’t know how to pray, or we are not worthy. Despite this, God reaches out to us in various ways because God loves us, no matter what may have happened.  We think we are “hiding” when all the while God is watching over us, like a loving parent or kind teacher. No matter what we’ve done, good or bad, God still wants to be in relationship with us.

We can trust that God wants to be in this relationship with us because God keeps reaching out to humans again and again in biblical history despite people failing him again and again. God’s love is so unconditional that he sent his son (that is, God came to earth in the form of Jesus Christ) and died on the cross while people were still steeped in sin.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. —Romans 5:8

I was thinking about these things when this short video of children explaining prayer appeared in my Facebook feed. Their hearts are open and trusting. Creative. Honest. Compassionate.

Being fifty-something doesn’t stop me from learning from these children. Their freshness and youth inspires me to be a little more honest with God, a little more free-flowing–and less worried about “if I’m getting it right.”

But aren’t we sinners? Yes, but we also God’s children, for it is God who gave us life. Little children don’t worry if their words aren’t elegant or sophisticated–and the loving parents around them continue to value what they say. We don’t stop loving children when they make mistakes or have difficulties. God enjoys having quality time with us, just we enjoy having quality time with our children.

Will you pray with me?

O God,
The next time I try to run from praying
because I am ashamed, guilty, or afraid,
please send your Holy Spirit to remind me
that you are the God of Mercy and unconditional love.
The next time I feel “I don’t have the right words to pray,”
remind me that I can say whatever I want or feel,
or even express myself to you in wordless ways,
trusting that you understand my heart
and love me just as I am.
The next time I want to pray, but feel inadequate,
please remind me that prayer is about
spending quality time together with you,
not mastering fancy words or passing an imaginary test.
Thank you, Lord,
for your constant love and attentiveness to us,
and help us to always place our trust in you.
This I ask in the name of Jesus
and in the communion of the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

 

Nature, creativity, and Creator God

I hope all of you are enjoying summer this year.  Here’s a photo I took of a monarch butterfly who kept flitting around the sandy beach.  I had fun adding the quote about Creator God.

Butterfly on sandy beach with Apollonius saying--Julie McCarty

Creativity often benefits from a playful attitude. In order to be creative, one has to let go of the critical self (writers call this “inner critic”), at least in the beginning, lest the new creation be crushed even before it’s out of the cocoon. It often helps to approach a new project with the spirit of childhood play.

I wonder if God would have created us, if his divine mind was filled with worries and fearful “what ifs” … What if they sin too much? What if the humans hate me? What if they hurt each other–or kill each other? What if NO ONE returns to the Garden of Eden (heaven) to be with me?

The creative energy just doesn’t flow with this sort of thinking. If God had been tangled up in nervous “what-ifs,” we might not even EXIST at all.

When I say this, of course, I’m really preaching to myself. In order to be creative, one has to silence the inner critic–at least in the initial stages. The inner critic can suggest improvements later, when it is time to edit or improve the work in progress.

May God bless you with a creative and re-creating summer…May your inner critic take a vacation so you can create something beautiful–be it sermons, recipes, vacations, work projects, art, photos, or simple messages on greeting cards. . . And may all you plan and create be filled with the wisdom, love, and Spirit of the Ultimate Creator.

Until next time, Amen!

(For more spiritual nuggets, visit Spiritual Drawing Board on Facebook.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Branching out–expanding your spiritual life

Jesus said to them, “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?”
          –Matthew 8: 26

Branching out--photo by Julie McCarty

As it was growing, how did this tree know when it was time for the trunk to become two major life lines to the rest of the branches?

I could answer, the DNA in the cells tell it how to grow–but then, how does the DNA know? 

Growth is a mysterious process, highly individualized. God calls us to keep growing in our spiritual lives, no matter what our chronological age.

Is there something in your life that God wants to expand? A new experiment with prayer? A different service to others? A fresh way of looking at life in general?

What stops you from “branching out” in this new way? Is it fear? Exhaustion? Laziness? Something else blocking your path?

Will you pray with me?

Come, Holy Spirit, help us to listen for your voice, leading us along the path of discipleship. Please give us the courage to put aside all fear and to bravely try whatever new things God may desire of us. Help us to grow strong in faith, like this tree that bravely stands through all kinds of weather. 

Until next time, Amen! 

The Risen Lord Enters Our Hell

The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many.  –Matthew 27:52-53.

When you think of Christ’s resurrection, what do you imagine? Do you think of Jesus bursting out of the tomb, his cape flying behind him like Superman? Do you think of Jesus disguised as the gardener who surprises Mary Magdalene? Jesus magically appearing behind locked doors? Walking with the disciples on the road to Emmaus?  

If you were raised in an Eastern Christian church, you might have another image, an even more prominent image, strongly planted in your mind. You might immediately think of the “Anastasis” (Greek for “resurrection”), an icon or image of Christ breaking down the doors of hell (hades, the place of the dead), in order to free Adam and Eve and others from their spiritual prison.

Below is an ancient fresco of this image, painted in the Church of St. Chora in Constantinople. Christ is pulling Adam and Even out of their tombs. He is standing on the gates of hell, which he has broken open. Other saints and prophets of the Old Testament are also witnessing and participating in this remarkable event.

Anastasis--photo by Neil Harrison--Dreamstime.com

(Click on photo to enlarge. Photo: copyright Neil Harrison — Dreamstime.com) 

It is JESUS who goes the extra mile, to pull up Adam and Eve out of the grave. Never mind that Adam and Eve had deliberately sinned. Never mind that they didn’t “deserve” salvation. Never mind that they weren’t baptised Christian. Never mind that they lived before him in time and place.

Jesus’ love overcomes every obstacle. Even the doors of hell cannot hold Christ back. And that applies to our current lives as well. Christ enters the places we feel are our own personal “hells” in order to bring us new life.

In Praying with Icons, Jim Forest reminds us that the Anastasis Icon serves as a reminder that Christ wants to free us from all that enslaves us, especially perhaps, our fears:

The icon of Christ’s Descent into Hell can be linked with an ongoing prayer not to live a fear-centered life. We live in what is often a terrifying world. Being fearful seems to be a reasonable state to be in — fear of violent crime, fear of job loss, fear of failure, fear of illness, fear for the well-being of people we love, fear of collapse of our pollution-burdened environment, fear of war, and finally fear of death. A great deal of what we see and hear seems to have no other function than to push us deeper into a state of dread. . . .

We can easily get ourselves into a paralyzing state of fear that is truly hellish. The icon reminds us that Christ can enter not just some other hell but the hell we happen to be in, grab us by the hands, and lift us out of our tombs.

There is much that can frighten us in our everyday experiences. Christ does not prevent us from ever suffering–but Christ does promise to be there with us, through the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling within and among us, come what may.

Until next time, Amen!

The Spiritual Practice of Being Uncomfortable by Christine Valters Paintner

Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go. –John 21:18

Have you ever thought about moving beyond your comfort zone as a type of spiritual practice?  Is life drawing you to something new, but you are hesitant? Is God inviting you to another way of serving others or giving of yourself, but you are reluctant or procrastinating?

In her column on Patheos.com, Benedictine Oblate and “online Abbess” Christine Valters Paintner explores the way that moving beyond our comfort zone could be called a spiritual practice. Here’s the link:

The Spiritual Practice of Being Uncomfortable.

(If the link above doesn’t work, try googling “spiritual practice of being uncomfortable”.)

Thanks to the “online Abbess” of Abbey of the Arts for challenging us to listen and act when the Spirit invites us to new ways of thinking and behaving–and thanks to Patheos.com for allowing the sharing of columns.

Until next time, Amen.