Paying Attention . . . to the Holy Spirit

(Note: Below is a reflection I offered recently at our church on Sunday. I was asked to share a personal faith story relating to Matthew 1:18-25.) 

In today’s gospel reading, we hear about the amazing ways God sometimes communicates: Mary has her angelic vision, and Joseph has his remarkable dream. These things are recorded in the bible because they were outstanding experiences –God knew they needed these angelic visions because of their extraordinary calling to become the parents of our Savior.

007-prophecies-birth-jesus--from freebibleimages dot org

I am given to thinking, though, that for most of the time, Mary and Joseph found their inner peace in ordinary ways: in paying attention to the Holy Scripture, in praying, in practicing Sabbath, in listening to their rabbi, in watching the seasons of nature and the experiences of ordinary family living.

I would like to share a time when my husband Terry and I felt that the Holy Spirit helped us in a way that felt extraordinary — and yet others might see as “ordinary”…

Capture--Ely Minnesota 2--from Google MapsWe were fairly new to Minnesota, having moved here from Arizona/New Mexico, and we were excited about camping up in the Northland.  On this particular trip, we were tenting near Ely (EE–lee–rhymes with “really”) in mid-summer, and things weren’t going so well. We came to the place for the quiet, and instead heard loud partying late into the night, just two spaces away. We came for hiking, but the generous use of bug repellent didn’t keep the mosquitoes from swarming around us (it was a cloudy, muggy day, and apparently they knew we were “green Minnesotans” and took special delight in annoying us). Yes, too buggy outside the tent and too humid inside the tent…

In the midst of all this, we had this one night of intense heat, humidity, and unusual stillness… How could this be the frigidly cold Minnesota I’d always heard about?

In the morning, we saw a gray cloud appear in the west (you will recall campers didn’t have “weather apps” in those days). We considered cutting the trip short and going home, but wondered if that would keep us from becoming “hardy Minnesotans”?

In the end, we hurriedly threw our tent in the car and headed home. We were only as far as the city of Virginia, when the darkness hit in midday and the wind and torrents of rain forced us to stop at a restaurant.  Inside, a crowd of people was huddled by the door, talking about how bad this storm was.

Eventually, we made it home okay. The next morning, the news reported that this was a gargantuan size storm– you may remember this storm! It happened on July 4, 1999, and you may recall it took a full week to rescue all the campers in the Boundary Waters due to the millions of trees downed (they couldn’t even hike around all those trees). [Note: You can read about this special, unique storm, called a “derecho”,  on the National Weather Service link: July 4, 1999 storm. ]

U.S. FOREST SERVICE PHOTO -- BWCAW blowdown on July 4, 1999.
U.S. FOREST SERVICE PHOTO — BWCAW blowdown on July 4, 1999.

When I think of this experience, I always think of the Holy Spirit. One could say it was a “coincidence” that we decided to go home, but I think it was more than that. We didn’t have some fancy spiritual experience with “special effects,” but I think the Holy Spirit was our “advocate” on that day, nudging us to pay attention to the signs around us, to pick up our tent and return home.

Holy Spirit--stained glass window--Julie McCarty--Spiritual Drawing BoardSo, yes, sometimes the Holy Spirit brings us peace through the “special effects” of holy visions and rarified dreams, but other times, I think the Spirit of God reveals things through ordinary, hidden ways, and waits to see what we will do with it. It is in responding to God’s invitation, with love in our hearts, that brings true inner peace.

Until next time, Amen! 

[Photo credits: 1) Image of Bethlehem from freebibleimages.org, 2)Ely, MN from Google Maps, 3)Boundary Waters Storm clean-up from US Forest Service, and 4) Stained glass window from St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Litchfield Park, AZ–taken by Julie McCarty in 2013, with permission from pastor.]

 

Bible Marathon: Seven Things I Learned In Reading the Entire Bible in (Roughly) One Year

Here’s a reflection I wrote for Easter Praise! blog:

God is Calling

Cover of The NRSV Daily BibleIn the summer of 2014, I began hearing about a program at Easter Lutheran Church called “Bible in a Year.” The challenge was to read the bible, cover-to-cover, over the course of a year, beginning on Oct. 1, 2014. Outside of the obvious biblical stories, history, and facts I learned, there are a few things I would like to share from the experience:

1. The Old Testament is a lot longer than I realized. Have you ever counted the pages in the bible–with all that fine print? Tried to read the Old Testament straight through?  After the first month or two I found myself positively hungering for Jesus (as did many of us!). The benefits of reading the Old Testament, however, are many. For one thing, I came to understand ancient Middle-Eastern history/culture a little bit better—and that also helped me understand the situations surrounding the life and times of…

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Thought for the day…on God’s love

God’s love is so immense and infinite… beyond our wildest imagination. Here’s a quote I ran into:

Divine love can rake a dunghill--Spurgeon  [Words on image: “Divine love can rake a dunghill, and find a diamond!” –C.H. Spurgeon]

Hope you have a good day and a great week…and that you find God’s divine love in amazing places as you go about your “ordinary” tasks of living.

Until next time, Amen! 

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.

 

A Prayer Poem for Pentecost

Today is the Feast of Pentecost in many Christian churches. Here is a poem-prayer I wrote this morning as I was thinking about Pentecost and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. I invite you to spend some time praying and pondering this sacred mystery with me.

Holy Spirit--stained glass window--Julie McCarty--Spiritual Drawing Board

A Rainy Day Pentecost Prayer

On this day of Pentecost, a cloudy sky dimly shines through the window
while I sit here, sipping my cup of tea,
gentle raindrops falling on a wood
of bright green leaves.
No tongues of fire
or windy skies,
but that is
how it is
sometimes.
God comes
not only
Raindrops on puddle--Julie McCarty--Spiritual Drawing Boardin excitement
and special
effects, but
also in a
drop,
in the quiet,
to still our souls
and remind us
that the Divine,
the Holy Spirit,
is Holy Presence,
truly “God-with-Us”
in Spirit form–everywhere–
both near and far
and high and low
and deep within my heart,
and your heart, and the hearts
of people living on the other side
of the globe–maybe even of the universe.
Yes, Lord, pour out your Spirit afresh on us,
on all of us, renewing our lives and the earth,
raining down on us like raindrops, soaking deep
into the soil of the earth and the soil of our souls.
May this rain of the Spirit bring new life, an ever-growing
communion and holiness within and among us, more and more each day.

Flower with raindrops--Julie McCarty--Spiritual Drawing Board

Things Jesus Said . . . and meant (8)

The store near our house is nearly done with the clearing of Easter goodies, but in church communities all over the world, the 50-day celebration of Easter has just begun (or is about to begin this weekend in the Orthodox Church).

Today I’m pondering a passage from John’s gospel that will be read in many churches for the Second Sunday of the Easter Season. In this passage, the disciples are hiding behind locked doors in fear. They must have been afraid that if their leader, Jesus, was killed, they might be next on the list for the same treatment for following him.

Suddenly, the Risen Jesus appears in their midst. Peace be with you, he says. I think it’s important to notice what Jesus did not say. He could have easily said, where were you guys when I needed you?  You said you would stick by me no matter what happened!  He could have castigated Peter for denying him three times before the cock crowed. But no…Jesus says, Peace be with you!

Sunrise over Atlantic Coast--Clement of Alexander quote--Spiritual Drawing Board(click on image for full effect)

Not only does Jesus offer them peace. He gives them a special calling: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” They, too, are called by God to carry on the work of Jesus Christ–and he gives them the spiritual strength and gifts they need to do this ministry by breathing on them and saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit…”

As I mentioned in the post about Jesus breathing his last breath on the cross, the words for breath and spirit are often closely related in the original languages of the bible. Jesus handed over his spirit to the Father when he died on the cross. The Father breathed life into Christ again in the Resurrection–a new kind of life, an eternally living, breathing, incarnated and risen way of existence.

Now Jesus is passing his Holy Spirit into the disciples to empower them to carry on his work. This Holy Spirit has been “breathed” into followers of Jesus throughout all the centuries since that time.

Today, Jesus “breathes” his Spirit, the Holy Spirit, into each one of us who seeks to believe and follow in his path.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill our hearts this day with your peace, inner strength, and gifts to serve others with love! 

 Until next time, Amen! 

 

Photo: Sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean — photo by Julie McCarty–all rights reserved.

 

Things Jesus Said . . . and meant (7)

In Luke’s gospel, the final words Jesus says are a prayer:

44 Lent--Holy Week--Words of Jesus--Father into your hands I entrust my spirit

“Father, into Your hands I entrust my spirit!”

In the bible the word “spirit” is sometimes closely associated with “breath.”  It is Creator God who breathes life into the first human by giving Adam life. It is the Holy Spirit who gave Jesus earthly life in the womb of Mary. The Holy Spirit was revealed in a form of a dove when Jesus was baptized in the Jordan and began his ministry.

And now, Jesus is breathing his last human-life breath. Luke tells us that Jesus’ last words were a prayer: “Father, into Your hands I entrust my spirit.” Luke says with those words, Jesus breathes his last breath.

Jesus’ mission is over–he no longer has any control over what will happen with the future (in the earthly, human sense). What does he do? Prays. And in praying, gives us a prayer that is also good for us to say:

“Father, into Your hands, I entrust my spirit.”

I have found this to be a good prayer, especially when I am worried or confused. I have discovered I can repeat it, slowly, in time with my breathing (sort of), in the middle of the night. It helps me to “let go” of things. I’m thinking it might also make a good prayer when one is being wheeled into surgery.

God is in charge. God has plans that are far better than what I can imagine. Jesus “lets go” of his spirit, his control, and God brings about something better than anyone could have imagined (as we will celebrate on Easter).

“Father, into Your hands, I entrust my spirit.”

Until next time, Amen!