Coming your way…Lenten messages!

Lent begins tomorrow, and I’ve been working on creating images with quotations to nurture our Lenten journeys together.  I will be posting them here, and also on my public Facebook page called Spiritual Drawing Board by Julie McCarty .

Day 1 Lent--Ash Wed--Psalm 86 6 - Copy

I hope you will find these images to be nourishing food for the Lenten journey and something positive and/or meaningful you can share in social media with your friends.

I will also be posting the images here so you can receive all of them in your e-mail (you have signed up to “follow” this blog in your e-mail haven’t you?). If you follow on Facebook, make sure you visit Spiritual Drawing Board page often or you won’t see all the posts. (The current delivery rate of posts on public FB pages is only about 2%.)

Whatever plans you have for Lent, may the good Lord bless you. Let’s pray for each other during this special time of preparation for the celebration of Easter.

Until next time, Amen! 

 

Whom do you trust the most of all?

While reading Psalms this morning, this verse caught my eye:

Some trust in chariots and
some in horses,
but we trust in the name
of the Lord our God.   (Psalm 20:7)

Whom do you trust--light blue image--Julie McCarty--April 7 2014This psalm is written for those experiencing a time of great trouble, a time of stress and fear. (The first line is “May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble!”)  So I think that the chariots and horses are ways of defending the people, ways of keeping them safe in the time of attack.

The psalmist isn’t saying not to use chariots or horses, but rather that one’s ultimate trust, the One to actually worship and stake your whole life upon is God.

I wonder, if the psalmist wrote this for us today, living in our own culture and time, what would he or she write? There are many possible answers, but here’s one…  a bit of a stinging challenge to us all (Lent is a challenging time, isn’t it?!):

Some trust in private investment,
others in government programs,
but we trust in
the love and mercy of God.

That’s not to say we don’t need private investment or government programs. It’s that these things are not as important as placing all our faith in God.

Trusting in God doesn’t mean everything will “go my way”… That might be what some think, especially those who subscribe to the “gospel of prosperity,” but the God I believe in is much more mysterious and beyond my comprehension. God is not at my beck and call, like a servant waiting to answer my petty little whims.

For me, trusting in God means staking my whole life on the message of love and mercy that Christ taught.  It means being willing to go the extra mile or take the risk to try something new for the sake of others.

Trust means believing that, in the end, it doesn’t matter if I have wrinkles or the Vikings win or which political party has the majority in Congress. Trusting in God means believing that there is something more important and more valuable than any of these things–and that the love we practice here prepares us for the loving embrace of God in the next life.

And, yes, at times, we do this very poorly–but that’s no reflection on the truth of Christ’s message. The fact that we fail to follow through on parts of the gospel is one good reason for the season of Lent: to recognize our sins, faults, weaknesses, and ways we “miss the mark” in our relationship with God and others.

Trust means believing that despite these sins and failings of mine, Christ has overcome sin and evil–and that Christ will continue to overcome sin and evil both now and in the future.

Now it’s your turn:

How would you rewrite the psalm verse for today?
What is the Spirit of God leading you to think about today?

Lenten reflection--Some trust in -- by Julie -- April 7 2014

Feel free to share your answer in the comment section if you like.

May the good Lord bless you. . . Until next time, Amen!

 

 

Lenten reflection: Marc Chagall’s White Crucifixion

I haven’t had the opportunity to blog as often lately, but I thought some of you might like to revisit a reflection I wrote three years ago about Marc Chagall’s “White Crucifixion.” I really enjoy Chagall’s unique style, and the “White Crucifixion” is  an amazing work of art –and good for Christians to ponder as we draw closer to the special time of Holy Week.

The Holy Spirit works in mysterious ways: this post was brought back into my awareness when Pope Francis said “White Crucifixion” is his favorite work of art

White Crucifixion--oil painting by Marc Chagall, 1938
White Crucifixion–oil painting by Marc Chagall, 1938

 

I have found that reflecting on the “White Crucifixion” is a kind of visio divina— that is, a prayerful meditation on a work of art. It brings my mind and heart into the realm of paying attention to God. To read that post, visit April 2011 on this blog.

May the good Lord bless you with awareness of his loving presence in your life in the days ahead. . .

Until next time, Amen!

P. S.  If you enjoy this blog, look for “Spiritual Drawing Board by Julie McCarty” on Facebook. 

 

 

 

 

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!  

Holden Evening Prayer

Last night, I attended the Wednesday Lenten evening prayer service at Easter Lutheran Church in Eagan (“on the Hill” location). The music we sang is called the Holden Evening Prayer, music written by composer Marty Haugen. (The name comes from Holden Village, a Lutheran retreat center in Washington State, where Marty Haugen was musician-in-residence when he composed the music.)

The Holden Evening Prayer music can be sung anytime, but is especially appropriate during Lent, when praying is a special focus. The candles were lovely in the dark winter night, the music was soothing, and the short message by the pastor was inspiring–a great boost for the middle of the work week. If you’re not much of a singer, don’t worry. It’s pretty simple music, and I’m convinced that even if you just sit and listen,  your soul will soak up the beauty of prayer.

Want to hear a sample? Here’s one of many clips from YouTube of the Holden Evening Prayer. This one was filmed at University Lutheran Church of the Epiphany (ELCA) in St. Cloud, MN (with a child singing one of the leads!):

After the service last night, I felt so relaxed. That’s the kind of music it was–very consoling and calming.

Whatever you do this Lent, keep on prayin’

Holy Week: Meditating on Marc Chagall’s White Crucifixion

White Crucifixion–1938 oil painting by Marc Chagall (click on picture to enlarge)   (more details at end of post) 

 

 As you probably know, this week is the celebration of Jewish Passover and Christian Holy Week. Because of this, I wanted to do something special, so I hunted online for a work of art to use for visio divina (meditating with art, see Feb. 24, 2011 post). As a Christian, I was looking for an image of Christ on the cross, and ended up being drawn to a 20th century painting called White Crucifixion by the famous Russian and Jewish artist Marc Chagall.

People have highly individualized reactions to art and I want to state up front that this post is not a historic analysis, an art critic’s review, or even a theological examination of the White Crucifixion. This post is simply my own personal feelings, thoughts, and prayer reactions after spending several days pondering the work. I respect that there are many ways to view the White Crucifixion, and I believe the artist himself would be the first to acknowledge that.

Many of Chagall’s paintings could be described as lively, romantic, humorous, imaginative, and filled with brilliant colors, but the White Crucifixion is largely drained of color. Chagall painted it in 1938 while living in Paris, in response to the horrifying events of Kristallnacht,  the “Night of Broken Glass,” when Jewish homes, businesses, and synagogues throughout Germany were systematically vandalized or destroyed, and thousands of Jewish men were carted off to concentration camps.

In White Crucifixion, Chagall arranges various scenes of this Jewish suffering around the crucifix, much like an altar screen adorned with biblical scenes around the perimeter. In the upper left, Russian soldiers turn Jewish homes upside down and set them ablaze. In the upper right, Nazi soldiers throw sacred objects from a burning synagogue out into the streets.

Below, a Jewish man is fleeing with a bag of belongings on his back, while another stands ready to sprint away, the sacred Torah firmly clasped in his arms. A woman holds her child in a protective stance; an old bearded man stands with a sign around his neck, his hands open, as if to ask “Why?”; refugees on an overloaded boat look as if about to die of hunger; a sacred scroll in the lower left corner is rolling on the ground, about to disappear from our sight; and the ghosts of Jewish rabbis and ancestors float above the scene, some covering their eyes or looking away—the sight is too horrendous to behold.

In the middle of all this, a Jewish man hangs on a cross, his only clothes a simple head covering and a tallith, a Jewish prayer shawl, to hide his nakedness. The words above him identify him as “King of the Jews.” With his hands and feet nailed to the cross he cannot move to stop the chaos and suffering all around him. He, too, suffers with all those others suffering. He bows his head in silence, as if in prayer or mourning. A light shines from above, while silent candles (a menorah turned sideways?) hold vigil at the base of the cross.

If the picture makes you feel uncomfortable, as it did me, I suggest you stay with that feeling for awhile. I did. I pondered the many evil things people have done, supposedly in the name of Christianity or other religions. I thought of all the times we think of Jesus as a blue-eyed, blond-haired little baby in a manger and how wrong it is that so often Christians have stripped Jesus of his Jewish heritage—and, much worse, committed heinous crimes against his younger, modern-day nieces and nephews.

The White Crucifixion reminds me that the observance of Good Friday ought not only to be about remembering the sacrifice of Christ, but also of the suffering that is going on all around the world today. Even as you read this, someone somewhere is being tortured, unjustly imprisoned, raped, kidnapped, enslaved, or murdered. Do we pray for these unseen, silent victims?

This Good Friday, let those of us who dare to call ourselves Christians take a good hard look at how we treat people who are seemingly “different.” Let us meditate long on the words Jesus said: “. . . love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. . .” (Luke 6:27) May we respect life in all its forms, treating every human with the same dignity we would treat Christ.  After all, it was Jesus who said [in the words of the song based on Matt. 25:40], “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me.”

 

 

Notes:  Image of the painting above was copied from Wikipedia under the creative commons agreement. To view a larger image, visit the Art Institute of Chicago website, http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/artwork/59426.

Other resources consulted: Marc Chagall and the Lost Jewish World by Benjamin Harshav (Rizzoli); Chagall by Jacob Baal-Teshuva (Taschen); and Marc Chagall by Jonathon Wilson (Nextbook-Schoken).

Lent, Soft Addictions, and Detachment

Router on Julie's desk--photo by Julie McCarty 2011I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but do the very thing I hate.     –St. Paul in Romans 7:15

I was awakened the other day by a little scratchy sound in the next room. Was it a mouse? No…maybe my husband was hauling out spring clothes? No, it was taking too long for that… Was he cleaning the house? . . . REALLY? At five in the morning?! 

When I dragged myself out of bed, I discovered the internet wasn’t working and Terry was trying to get the web up and running by unplugging and resetting various cords. 

After he left for work, I kept trying to fix it, without success. Eventually, I told myself it didn’t matter–I’m a writer for goodness sake: get to work!

But, try as I might, I was restless and jittery. How could I work without checking e-mail and reading the morning news online? I kept looking at the little red light on the router, flashing at me.

I was like a little baby who has had her milk bottle wrenched away, mid-sip. I want! I want! I want e-mail! I want to blog! I want to revise my website! Waaaaaahhh!

(So far I don’t have Facebook or Twitter accounts, and you can see why these options may not be good for me.)

While I was sitting at my desk, having mental internet withdrawal symptoms, I remembered a phrase from old-time spirituality books:  “inordinate attachments.” These are things in life that we cling to in a way that is excessive or beyond what is spiritually healthy.

Attachments are not necessarily bad in and of themselves, but sometimes they keep us from focusing on the really important things in life. For example, using the internet to do scholarly research is a good thing, but it might be an attachment if I simply cannot pull myself away to fix my family dinner.

While few people today speak of “inordinate attachments,” modern author Judith Wright communicates a similar idea when she speaks of “soft addictions.” As she describes in an interview with WebMD, “Soft addictions are those seemingly harmless habits like watching too much television, over-shopping, surfing the Internet, gossiping — the things we overdo but we don’t realize it. . . It seems like normal behavior, but that’s simply because everyone is doing it, too.” (To read the full article, click here.)

Lent is a good time to step back from our busyness and take stock of our lives. Are we too attached to some things? Do soft addictions keep us from having any time for prayer? Are there relationships in our lives that push us into doing things we know are bad for us? Do we find our attachments growing into bad habits that may evolve into the type of sin that hurts others or ourselves?

In spirituality, the opposite of attachment is detachment, the ability to let go of things. This letting go is done for the sake of a greater good. A person might detach from her fondness for eating in restaurants during Lent so she can use the money saved to feed starving children. A student who finds his schoolwork is not getting done “lets go” of chatty texting in order to succeed in his studies.

Practicing detachment is one way to open ourselves more fully to the action of grace and the presence of the Holy Spirit. We find the ultimate detachment in Jesus, who, while on the cross, opened his hands wide and let go of his life with the words, “Father, into Your hands I entrust my spirit.”

Waiting for Spring

Waiting for Spring 2 -- Photo by Julie McCarty 2011

 

I took this photo a couple of weeks ago in Lebanon Hills Regional Park, a place not far from my home in Eagan, Minnesota. We’ve had more snow than usual this year, and on this day, the sun was out (on and off!) and there was a temporary thaw underway.

It may be difficult for people in warmer climates to imagine the joy I felt walking outside in weather like this, but it was exhilarating. The milder temperatures of the day allowed me to take deep breaths and walk freely across the crunch, crunch, crunch under my feet. Lebanon Hills is such a huge area of woods, meadows and lakes that I felt the wonder and happiness I often feel when submerged in a nature walk.

The canoes in the picture, the little naked patch of land, and the water sitting on top of the frozen lake remind me that spring is coming–even if it seems like winter lasts forever. Little by little, the daylight hours are growing longer, something that gives me renewed energy.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the church season called “Lent,” a word that comes from the English word for “spring,” the time of year when the days lengthen (Lent, lengthen). Just as the warmer temperatures melt the snow, we allow God to melt the places in our hearts that are harsh, icy, or cold. We focus more intentionally on spiritual things to make room for whatever growth the Spirit wants for us. We die to sin in order to be ready for the springtime of resurrection.

On this day, I wish you a good Ash Wednesday and a very blessed Lent. Until next time, Amen!

P.S. If you want to see a larger version of the photo for your own meditation, try clicking on the picture.

A Personal Focus for Lent

The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there. . . . Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.  (Exodus 24:12, 18)

 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights. . .     (Matthew 4:1-2)

Ash Wednesday is just around the corner, and I’m wondering what spiritual practice I might do for Lent. If you are like me, you have experienced various Lenten penances related to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving over the course of your life. Some of my experiences produced quality spiritual growth. Other times I failed to follow through or had results that were, um, a little “silly” (such as the time I gave up potato chips and ate so many chocolate chip cookies that I actually gained weight during Lent).

Waiting for Spring -- Photo by Julie McCarty 2011

One spiritual practice that has been meaningful for me is reflecting on a single word, phrase, or bible verse for the whole 40 days. For example, one year I focused on the virtue of patience. I read about patience and pondered what patience is and what patience is not (laziness or procrastination). I asked God in prayer to help me be patient. When life brought me annoying moments, I tried to be patient.

One possible pitfall of this theme approach is that I might forget to follow through for the entire 40 days, but I have found ways around that. I can post my theme in places I’ll see it, such as the bathroom mirror, refrigerator, computer screen saver or cell phone banner. I can find a book on the topic and spend a few minutes each day reading about it. I can make it a point to weave my theme into prayer time and the routine of daily living. On occasion, I’ve asked spiritual people what they think about the topic.

When making plans for Lent, it’s important—as always—to ask the Holy Spirit to inspire your choices. (Why do I always think of this tip last? It should be first!) The “theme approach” may not be for everyone.   Think about what will build your relationship with God, and what will deeper your love for others.      

May all we do glorify God and build bonds of love throughout the earth. Until next time, Amen!

Spiritual Aerobics for Lent

   If focusing on a theme doesn’t appeal to you, here are 13 other ideas:                 

  • Volunteer at a food pantry, homeless shelter, or other charitable organization.
  • Plan quality time with your children: eat together, use discussion starters, read together.
  • Organize recycling in your home in order to take care of God’s creation.
  • Visit a lonely or homebound person.
  • Reduce the amount of time spent with television, social networking, internet surfing, or video gaming.
  • Listen to inspiring, spiritual music while commuting to work.
  • Care for the body God gave you by increasing your sleep or exercise.
  • Read one book of the bible or other spiritual book slowly and reflectively. 
  • Sort out closets and donate clothing to those who need it. 
  • Teach your children a new prayer and pray it together when you gather for meals.
  • Be kind to someone you often ignore. Pray each day for him or her. Smile genuinely and listen respectfully to this person.
  • Fast from shopping for clothes (or books, electronic gadgets, makeup, etc.)
  • Visit a retreat center. If you cannot go away on a retreat just now, make arrangements to go on retreat later this year.