Trust in God–even in hard times (or poor weather)

Lately I’ve been working on lots of creative projects.  One is serving as coordinator for a Christian spirituality blog for Easter Lutheran Church.

At the same time, the weather has been pretty crazy this winter. I say winter, not spring, because yesterday we had serious snow swirling around and it’s currently 11 degrees F.   Again.

…and so it was, I enjoyed this post by Pastor Paul Harris about trust in God, no matter how wacky or trying things may be (for me, even poor weather–which is a much easier cross than others have):

May the God of all hope
fill you with joy and peace in believing,
so that you may abound in hope
by the power of the Holy Spirit.

 — Romans 15:13

In my late teens I had a great struggle with the Christian faith in which I had been raised.   After rejecting Christianity as both irrelevant and untrue, I found myself in a terrible disquiet of heart.  How could I live in a world without God; a world with neither moral nor spiritual guideposts?

After many turns and twists of mind and heart, I …

READ MORE at —>> www.easterprays.com  (March 24, 2014 entry)

 

Budding leaves--Trust in God--Julie McCarty

 

May the good Lord bless you with faith, trust, and perseverance.

Until next time, Amen!

 

Lenten Opportunity: E-mail book group about “Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God”

Hearing God book cover

“Being close to God means communicating with him–telling him what is on our hearts in prayer and hearing and understanding what he is saying to us. It is this second half of our conversation with God that is so important but can also be so difficult. How do we hear his voice? How can we be sure that what we think we hear is not our own subconscious? What role does the Bible play? What if God says to us is not clear?”  — From the back cover of “Hearing God” by Dallas Willard. 

Lent begins today, and if you are still looking for some special way to observe the season, you might consider reading this book, “Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God.”  As most of you reading this blog know, prayer is not just about chattering on and on to God. Prayer is also about listening to God, paying attention to the presence of God.

But precisely how do we do this “listening” when it comes to God? Is there something wrong with us if we don’t actually hear a voice with our ears or in our minds? Is there some other way of “listening”?

During Lent I am facilitating a “virtual” book study about “Hearing God” in a small group format using e-mail. A friend of mine from church did this last summer with a group of Christians using a different book, and I learned a great deal. It was very convenient because we just wrote our thoughts at whatever time of day we wanted. We shared with people from different parts of the country, too. Frankly for me it was both challenging as a Christian (it was that kind of book) and JUST PLAIN FUN. 

I already have a couple of people who want to discuss “Hearing God” in this way. If we have enough people (we need a few more to make it work), we will start the group process around next Wednesday, March 12. You can buy the book on Amazon or Christian Books or other places. There is even a Kindle version and audio version. (I will be using the 2012 updated version–and I’m also hoping to watch the related DVD’s.)

Amish Quilt Please  join this group only if you have an open heart to learning about this important topic. People who join us should be prepared to be honest but polite, respectful of other people’s feelings and ideas.

Will you join us? If interested, please send me your first and last name and e-mail address by March 10.  I am not charging a fee for this–just buy the book, and have fun reading and pondering the ways of God.

Contact me via e-mail at juliemccarty (at)  usfamily  (dot)  com  —OR– send a message to my Facebook page called “Spiritual Drawing Board by Julie McCarty.”

Whatever your spiritual practices this Lent, may the good Lord bless you.

Until next time,  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! 

100th post: Pondering Advent and Spiritual Hypothermia

Post it note--100th blog postWordPress tells me that this is the 100th post on Spiritual Drawing Board blog.  Wow. I had no idea.

Numbers like 100 form a sort of milestone, giving one pause to ponder

  • how did the past blogging go (such as, did I forget to write Part 2 of the post defining “Christian contemplative”?)
  • where one is at present with blogging (I’ve been so busy I’m forgetting to post very often — yikes!)
  • where will one be in the future with blogging (Do I want to continue? — yes!)

This time of year, with its emphasis on new beginnings (Advent=new church year, Christmas=new life in baby Jesus, New Year of 2014), is a good time to ponder our own lives past, present, and future in similar fashion:

  • In the past, how has God invited me to live and how have I responded?
  • What is God trying to communicate to me today?
  • What would God like for me in the future?

[I think here of the brilliance of Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol:  Scrooge was forced to ponder the effect of his actions on others in the past and present, and what might result in the future if he remained on that path.] 

If you try this spiritual reflection for yourself and find yourself regretting things of the past or frustrated with the present, please do not berate yourself or lose hope. Classic spiritual writers agree that self-knowledge is the beginning of wisdom. Use what you learn about yourself as an opportunity to make fresh choices for the future.

In the following 2-minute Advent reflection video, Pastor Paul Harris explores what he calls “spiritual hypothermia,” a condition of feeling disoriented, lost, confused, guilty, or spiritually weak.  He reminds us we are not alone, and offers a way to cry out to God for help.

 

(If you don’t see the video, copy and paste this YouTube link into your browser: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Snr2v8YrAQo )

When we feel we are having a case of “spiritual hypothermia,” we can cry out to God in the words of Psalm 80:

Restore us, O God of hosts;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.

          (Psalm 80:7, NRSV)

To paraphrase that, writing a similar prayer in my own words:

Bring us back to life, O Loving, Unseen God!
Let the radiant light and heat of your presence
Shine down on us, that we might not die in our sins
and mistakes of the past, but rather we might
live the compassionate, holy life Christ revealed

Until next time, Amen! 

Grateful, with a Chance of Grump

Note from Julie: I’ve been busy this past month with teaching and other commitments, so it is with a grateful heart that I share this guest post with Spiritual Drawing Board readers. Thank you, writer Autumn Lubin! 

It’s a foggy day at the end of October. Thickly plush, the fog envelopes the world like a soft, silky blanket. When I was little, someone told me that fog is how God hugs us. That may be why I find fog so comforting. Wrapped up in the blanket of God, I say a prayer of gratitude for all the physical reminders God places around our world to remind us we are loved.

Foggy hillsides--photo Julie McCarty

(click on photo to enlarge)

Most of the time, I find the prayer of gratitude an easy one to send up. So, so much has been given to me in this world. How could I not be grateful for it all? Well, God made us in this quirky human form, that even when we are surrounded by a bounty of gifts of people, riches, experiences, nature and love, we will find the one thing that is missing or not quite right. That place where curmudgeon and envy live in our souls and snatches away the gratitude, replacing it with a lump of grumpy dissatisfaction.

I’ve been working on prayer that leads me from my lump of grump and back to gratitude. A favorite quote reminds me that being grateful is the only true response.

“You cannot be grateful and bitter. You cannot be grateful and unhappy. You cannot be grateful and without hope. You cannot be grateful and unloving. So just be grateful.” –(Author Unknown)

In Timothy 4:4 – 5, we read:

“For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.”

I pray for these words to enter deeply and become the blood that pumps my heart. Breathe in heaven, breathe out gratitude.

I’ve come to find that gratitude is an intentional place in us. It doesn’t just spring from us. It requires sight and insight. It requires a desire to appreciate all of what is ours, that which we love and that we dislike very intensely and everything in between. It demands something I call painful gratitude – finding the gift in even that which hurts, angers, humiliates, makes us cry and saying a prayer of thanks. Not every gift we are given is one we recognize or understand its value or purpose. But as I was taught as a child, you say thank you even if don’t like it, don’t want it, don’t know what it is or already have it. With a smile.

The sun has set now and the darkness has vanquished the fog from my vision. But I know it remains outside my window. Gently blanketing my home, I lean back in God’s love and say thank you. Thank you for it all. I will remember to take each and every gift with grace and want for nothing more. This is what I pray. And then I pray for the grace I’ll need to honor my promise because I know some other day, maybe tomorrow, I will find myself again with a lump of grump obstructing my view of gratitude.

How do you practice gratitude?

How do you find you way back when your lump of grump is getting in your way?

~~~

Autumn is a writer, educator and a non-profit consultant. More importantly, she is a wife, mom, grandma, cousin, friend, neighbor and owned by a dog and two cats. You can reach her at amlubin@gmail.com.

“A Simple Way to Pray” by Martin Luther

FREE CLASS:  If you live around the Twin Cities, please join me tonight, Sept. 24, in an exploration of Martin Luther’s “Simple Way to Pray” (details below).

Easter Church--Hill focal pointYou do NOT have to be Lutheran to enjoy praying this way. In fact, Luther takes what he learned as a Catholic monk and reshaped it to make it easy and appropriate for any follower of Christ, whatever one’s career or vocation. (He wrote “A Simple Way to Pray” as a letter for his barber.) 

Both “beginning pray-ers” and longtime people of prayer are welcome. Interested children/teens (over age 10)  welcome to come with parents.

PROMISE: I will not force you to pray aloud spontaneously. 🙂

Details:
Tuesday, Sept. 24, 7:00-8:30 pm
Easter Lutheran Church “on the Hill” in Eagan, MN,
at SE corner of Diffley & Pilot Knob Rd.

Hope to see you there.

Until next time, Amen!

A Prayer for Peace

Candle with watercolors 4--Julie McCartyHeavenly God,

You know all that is in our hearts:
the good desires
and the not-so-good desires,
the longing for peace,
yet wanting things-my-own-way,
the instinct to share,
while also the instinct of hoarding-for-my-survival.

I don’t have to tell you that all people on earth
have the need for clean water, healthy food, shelter, and safety.
You know very well how people who are desperately suffering
from starvation, thirst, homelessness, or civil strife,
may fall into violence to get what they need to survive.
You also know some people turn aggression into a way of life,
using violent solutions at the least provocation.

Loving God, we ask you to help us to work for peace.
You are like a loving parent–we are your children,
whatever our nationality, tribe, religion, or culture.
We are all one family, and yet, like one family,
we disagree, we fight for dominance, we wrestle for power.

When harm comes to innocent people, we feel frightened or angry.
Do we fight back? Look away? Grab a gun or hold a dove of peace?
I think there is no easy answer. I think: it depends.

I beg you, Lord, to pour your Spirit of Wisdom
on those who have earthly power, the movers and shakers,
political leaders and public commentators,
and all those who speak in the streets or social media.

Show us the way to work and live together in harmony–
and give us the courage to follow that way
with compassion, inner strength, and mercy.

I’m not just asking, Lord, I’m begging.

Amen.

Feast of the Transfiguration

Today is the Feast of Christ’s Transfiguration:

Jesus took Peter, John and James and went up a mountain to pray. While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white. (Read more in Luke 9:28b-36)

 Transfiguration photo 2--by Julie McCarty --Spiritual Drawing Board

Until next time, Amen!

P.S. Yes, it’s okay to share these posts with friends. See also Facebook page “Spiritual Drawing Board By Julie McCarty” for more social media sharing.

More on branching out–25 ways to deepen your spiritual life

In my last post, I wrote about branching out, trying new things. I mentioned exploring ways to expand your spiritual life.

Christ the Pantocrator by Marian Zidaru--2002
Christ the Pantocrator by Marian Zidaru–2002

I believe God (your Higher Power, the Divine One, however you describe God) wants to be close to each one of us. I believe this God is full of compassion and mercy–and that God calls out to us, like a passionate lover longing for quality time with his or her beloved.

Various ways of praying do not earn us “extra credit” with God. God loves us immensely no matter what. However, if you love God, you will want to spend some quality time together. There are various ways of being together, and some specific ways of praying that will enable you to be more present to God, more aware of God’s presence in your life.

There are many ways to build a deeper relationship with God or a more developed prayer life. Looking for some ideas? Here is a list of 25 ideas of ways to expand your own spiritual time with God:

  1. Say grace–before breakfast. I don’t know why, but I don’t recall doing this even once. Why do I thank God for dinner but not for  breakfast?
  2. Copy a sentence or two from sacred texts (such as the Bible or the Koran). Place it where you will see it everyday, such as on the bathroom mirror, refrigerator, or screen saver.
  3. Walk a labyrinth, reflecting on key points in your life as you make the turns. (Read more:  Labyrinth: The Walking PrayerPrayer labyrinth--photo by Julie McCarty
  4. Sign up for a retreat and mark it as high priority on your calendar.
  5. Read a spiritual classic. (Suggestions at Good Reads )
  6. Look for websites that help you learn about prayer–or actually guide you in prayer. For example, the “Daily Disconnect” offers a guided prayer reflection which includes an online timer to allow for some silent time at the end of your reflection.
  7. Visit a different house of worship. Been to a church or temple lately? Use the web to look at places of worship in your area, and then just experiment–visit a few in person.
  8. Take a prayer walk–drop everything and walk outside with God. (For more info, visit my post or other Prayer Walking Tips  )
  9. Look for your “spiritual type.”Just for fun, try the “spiritual type” quiz on Beliefnet 
  10. Attend a bible study, women’s group, or other event offered at your place of worship. Don’t just read about it online. Get in touch with real people.
  11. Deal with your anger. Angry at your church institution? Try talking with a counselor or spiritual director about your confusion. Find a neutral person who will help you sort out the complicated, perhaps mixed feelings about religion, faith, God, and what is best for your life.
  12. Serve the poor at a soup kitchen and think about Jesus being in the midst of that soup line as you hand out the bowls.
  13. Set your alarm for 15 minutes earlier each morning, sit up in bed and read the bible or devotional for those 15 minutes before getting dressed.
  14. Find a spiritual director and visit with him or her once a month, exploring your own spiritual dimension in a friendly, confidential, prayerful setting.
  15. Try coffee break prayer. Once a week, during your coffee break or lunch hour, slip into a church or quiet park bench for a few minutes alone with God.
  16. Make a gratefulness list. Write a list of 25 things for which you give thanks–and don’t forget to tell God about it.
  17. Sing a prayerful song. So what if you voice isn’t that great? Sing when you are alone–or play spiritual music during your morning commute. 
  18. Keep a prayer journal. Write your thoughts about your religious beliefs, your feelings, your experiences, etc. in prayer form. Write letters to God about your life.
  19. Pray ahead of time. When you look at your calendar each morning, pray about the upcoming day’s events, asking the Holy Spirit to guide your every word and deed, to bless those you will see that day.
  20. Grow your spiritual mind. Want to understand your religion’s teachings at an adult level? Bring your questions to your minister, priest, rabbi, or other spiritual leader–or audit a class at a college (many religious colleges allow auditing for inexpensive rates, and/or special rates for seniors).
  21. Examine your conscience. During the past week, when were you especially alive to God’s presence? When did you “miss the mark”? Thank God for all that is good, and ask for forgiveness for your sins.
  22. Learn yoga as a way of quieting yourself in the presence of God. If you don’t feel comfortable with ancient yoga foundations, try a “devotional yoga” that combines the healthy body movements with Christian attitudes towards God.
  23. Ask God what things need a new home. Clean out your closet or garage in a prayerful way, seeking to give to others in a Christ-like manner. Pray for those who will receive your gifts.
  24. Common Prayer book coverDo your normal prayer with a different body posture. For example, try reading the psalms in standing position, facing east (place of the sunrise). Or, try kneeling when you ask God to forgive your sins.
  25. Let the last thing you think about before going to sleep be God. Not the news, not Facebook, not your problems, but rather God. How to do this? Start a routine of prayer or spiritual reading just before you nod off at night. (Don’t worry if you fall asleep holding the prayer-book in bed. What better way to sleep, than in the arms of God?)

These are just ideas to get your creative spiritual juices going. Pick one and run with it. I’d love to hear how it goes.

Until next time, Amen!  

P.S. Want little spiritual nuggets in-between blog posts? Visit the Facebook page “Spiritual Drawing Board by Julie McCarty” and click on “receive notifications” on the “like” button. 

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!