Posts Tagged ‘soul

30
Nov
21

The Unbreakable Bubble

Check this out…

(Sorry for the poor quality photography)

Shortly after moving to Fort Collins, CO, Joan and I were walking the dogs in nearby Fossil Creek Park. It was early December, but snow had yet to make an appearance.

As we approached the base of a hill, I saw all these trees with straw bales shrink-wrapped to them. I stared at this bizarre sight, scratched my head in puzzlement, turned to Joan and said, “What the heck is that all about? Why are straw bales shrink-wrapped to the base of these trees?”

Being the far brighter, more observant, and astuter (???) one of us, Joan immediately replied, “Silly… those straw bales are there to protect sledders.” Being the kind, compassionate person she is, Joan refrained from capping her statement with, “DUH!!”

Sure enough, as we circled the hill, I noticed that just about every tree and light post had its own straw bale attached… ALL on the uphill side where sledders, skiers, or snowboarders would come from.

It made me wonder: where were those when I was a young sledder? For us – back in the Sledding Stone Age– it was a case of “Dodge or Die.” When I was young, stories were legion about kids who sledded into a tree/rock/lamppost/car/etc. and “…cracked his skull wide open.” 

All of which coaxed me into thoughts about the notion of PROTECTION in general. 

We certainly go to great lengths to PROTECT these days, don’t we? Especially now in the time of The Great Global Pandemic. We wash. We hand-sanitize. We mask (some of us double-mask even). We vaccinate. We boost. We shield. We sterilize. We germ-fog. 

Heck, last year, Joan and I even saw an Asian couple and their children dressed in hazmat suits at the Seattle-Tacoma Airport. 

And still – with all those protection measures in place – people still get sick and die. 

I can’t say this with complete certainty, but I’ll even bet there are young sledders at Fossil Creek Park who still crash and hurt themselves… despite all the straw-bales and shrink-wrap.

So, I wonder… where does the concept of PROTECTION fit into God’s Grand Scheme of Things? 

Interestingly, I discovered that whereas there are 45 verses in the Old Testament that use the word “Protect” or “Protection,” there are only SEVEN of those verses in the New Testament. 

In the OT, you have verses like, “May the Lord answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you…” (Psalm 20:1, NRSV), and “You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.” (Psalm 32:7, NRSV), and, “But as for me, afflicted and in pain— may your salvation, God, protect me…” (Psalm 69:29, NRSV). 

Here, God is clearly understood as the Great Protector From All Harm

But somewhere, somehow, something takes a real turn in the New Testament. Not only does it only contain 1/6 the number of verses about protection as the Old Testament, but the whole FLAVOR of the way it is talked about takes a dramatic turn.

Here are two examples of what I am talking about. In this first one, Jesus is sitting with the disciples in the Garden of Gesthemane. He has told them what is about to happen to him and is now praying. He petitions God and says, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” (John 17:15, NRSV). 

Then there is this verse in 2 Thessalonians that echoes a similar theme: “But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.” 2 Thessalonians 3:3, NRSV).

“Protect you/them from the evil one.” 

No longer is God (apparently) the God who keeps you from cracking your skull open, or getting COVID, or (nearly) breaking your big toe, or losing your house in a fire, or going broke. 

God – in the New Testament – seems to be the God whose main project is protecting your soul.

I don’t know… maybe it was because of the seemingly endless stream of heartbreak, woe, exile, injury, and misfortune that befell the Israelites that led them to rethink the whole idea of what “God’s protection” meant.

Jesus spoke to this directly when he told the disciples, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NRSV). 

Now THAT’S what I call PROTECTION

Each of us is going to have hard times in the days ahead. As much as we’d like to have one, there is no impermeable bubble that will shield us from all insult and/or injury. 

But there IS available – for ALL of us – an unshakable source of peace when we face those times. 

His name is Jesus.

Abundant blessings;

19
Apr
21

Watch Your Eyes!

Today, for the first time in a jillion years, I got new glasses.

Not just new lenses. New frames, too. 

And if I do say so myself, they are pretty danged snazzy. 

All of which made me pause and think about the importance of my eyes.

Somewhere in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus offered his listeners this important observation: “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eyeis unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness.” (Matthew 6:22-23, NRSV).

Which prompts me to ask: How is your eye… or rather, how are your EYES today?

No question; eyes and their use have always been important to us. Not only do they help us navigate through our surroundings, but they also serve as a critical instrument of self-expression. 

Here in the time of the global pandemic, however, their importance seems to have skyrocketed exponentially. 

Think of it. When we find ourselves in a time – as we do today – where masks hide the lower half of everyone’s face, the entire weight of emotional expression falls on the eyes. We have to learn to “SMIZE” (or “smile with your eyes,” TM, Tyra Banks), express pleasure, fear, concern, angst, boredom, surprise, disgust, horror, love, and 85 other emotions ENTIRELY with our eyes.

That seems like a mighty heavy burden to lay on those two little jelly-filled balls.

This is certainly a time for us to take good care of the health of these critters, for sure. It is also a good time to remember to be a little extra cautious about how we are using our eyes. For example, are we…

… rolling our eyes?

… averting our eyes?

… leering with them?

… looking covetously with them?

… staring with them?

… registering embarrassment or shame with them?

Your eyes disclose your heart. They have the power to hearten or to discourage everyone you meet. 

Our eyes serve as our ambassadors… going out ahead of us to tell others who we are and what we are about. They don’t lie… even when we ask them to.

So, please… take good care of your eyes…

… and watch them carefully.

Abundant blessings;

06
Jan
21

The Enemy Within

Raised voices.

Shaken fists.

Popped forehead veins.

Tensed muscles.

We all recognize the signals of anger. We have seen it at work many times before; in ourselves and in others. We are seeing overwhelming amounts of it in our nation’s capital today.

We know its destructive power and its crazy, irrational flight path. 

We quickly identify it as a threat to the peace we seek to cultivate.

And yet, if we really are as savvy and self-aware as we pretend to be, why do we keep moving TOWARD anger, violence, and mayhem instead of AWAY from them? Why do they fascinate us so? What primordial force is at work, drawing us in, like moths to a flame?

  • We can’t get enough of sporting events featuring violence.
  • We HAVE to slow down and check out the accident on the side of the road.
  • TV commentators have to shout at each other to gain our attention.
  • Our favorite television programs center on crime, injury, death, tragedy, and egregious harm done by one person to another.

We know we should disdain it, but we remain mesmerized.

It is too easy to shake our heads, point our fingers at “them” and say things like, “Shocking!” and “Shameful!” and “Outrageous!” It keeps us from looking too deeply inside ourselves and seeing the seeds of violence living there. We are quick to pronounce absolution on ourselves, saying, “My constitution might include a few unwholesome urges, but at least I don’t do things like THAT!”

But while we are busy looking “out there,” for insight we are missing a golden opportunity to examine what is “in here.” None of us really want to acknowledge how dangerously close we are to being part of The Mob… you know, the very same people who cheered for Jesus on Palm Sunday and then shouted, “CRUCIFY HIM!” five days later. 

Dear God, please hear our prayer. Please, God, lead us in acts of repentance that first recognize our own violent tendencies and then help us to turn our backs on those tendencies and seek the path of peace. 

In your name and for your sake we pray…

AMEN. 

23
Nov
20

The Eye of God

Beneath his mask of anger, bluff, and bluster, God sees…

  • God sees the fearful, insecure child hiding inside.

Beneath the surface of the spreader of careless gossip, God sees…

  • God sees the fragile, wounded heart, yearning to belong.

Beneath the exterior of the wild, risk-taking daredevil, God sees…

  • God sees the calloused heart aching to revive a sense of the wonder of life.

Beneath the veneer of the driven, polished, professional high achiever, God sees…

  • God sees the yawning deficit of love and self-regard.

Beneath the façade of cool indifference, God sees…

  • God sees the ocean of anxiety and insecurity.

Beneath the symptoms of depression and despair, God sees…

  • God sees a tender, hopeful heart, eager to connect.

Behind towering walls of debilitating addiction, God sees…

  • God sees the beautiful, flawless mirror of the soul, created to reflect its Source.

God sees what is.

God sees what was.

God sees what could be.

God sees it all.

God invites each of us to open the eyes of our hearts and see… REALLY see. 

… to see as God sees.

… to weep as God weeps.

… to love as God loves.

And then, having seen, to give thanks.

Abundant blessings;

19
Aug
20

Lockdown Freedom

Covid in jailYesterday kind of sucked.

It was day 4,845,154 of the Great Lockdown of 2020 (not that anyone is counting, of course).

It was another day of wearing our masks in public, another day of super-fastidious hand washing, another day of not traveling anywhere, another day of no concerts or in-person sporting events, and another day of watching our nation’s infection numbers continue to rise because this highly contagious virus has somehow become a political debate rather than a matter of scientifically-considered public health.

What made yesterday different from the other 4,845,153 days before it was smoke, haze, and 96-degree weather. The smoke and haze come from a 12,000-acre forest fire burning some 20 miles to the west of our house. The 96-degree weather comes, of course, from the calendar.

On most days, Joan and I can break up the monotony of retirement quarantine life by getting out and walking the dogs, working on projects in the yard, reading our novels, and doing some laundry. Occasionally I amuse myself by reading and/or writing a blog post or two.

But then, when the Great Outdoors decides to conspire against your skin and bronchial passages all at once, the world suddenly closes in on you. You’re trapped inside! And worse yet… you are trapped inside with all of your inside chores done!

There is suddenly nothing to do, but read, nap, chit-chat, snack and repeat.

Endlessly.

All I can say is, thank God Joan was there for the “chit-chat” part of the equation, or I’m not sure what I would have done!

For those of you who don’t know me, I happen to be a guy with a lot of excess energy zipping around through my cells. Consequently, the skills of sitting quietly and meditating are not skills that come readily to hand. I am not saying that I suddenly knew how prisoners must feel, but I kind of felt like I knew how prisoners must feel.

It was then, in the middle of my anxious thumb-twiddling, that I suddenly remembered the devotion I’d read only hours before. It was a devotion focused on the Apostle Paul’s letter to the folks who comprised the church he had started earlier in the region of Galatia.

The thematic thread that runs throughout the entire six chapters of the book of Galatians is FREEDOM. As Paul says in the first verse of the fifth chapter, “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1, NRSV).

The more I thought about those words, the more convinced I became that Paul was probably not talking about the freedom to go outside and walk your dogs. Or the freedom to go to a movie theater or baseball game. Or even – strange as it may seem – the freedom to go grocery shopping without a facemask.

No. He is more likely talking about an entirely different kind of freedom… something rooted much more deeply inside each one of us. Something not dependent on the circumstances we find ourselves in.

It sounds to me as if Jesus’ kind of freedom is the radical kind of freedom. It is probably more like freedom from our pasts. Freedom from our fears. Freedom from anxiety. Freedom from worry about what other people think about us. Freedom from our insecurities. Freedom from our self-doubts.

A kind of freedom – in other words – that nothing and no one can take away from us.

Not a pandemic.

Not air pollution.

Not 96-degree weather.

Not even a completed “TO DO” list.

 

Abundant blessings;

24
Feb
20

Short and Sweet

“For he knows how we were made;
he remembers that we are dust.

As for mortals, their days are like grass;
they flourish like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.”
                                                Psalm 103:14-16, NRSV

 

Ice cream cartonWould this ice cream taste as sweet if I did not anticipate the bottom of the carton?

Would these daylight hours be as precious if I never saw the lengthening of the shadows?

If I believed these moments on the telephone with my grandson would be endless, would I savor them quite this same way?

What part does the fleeting nature of her smile play in its utter holiness?

Is my awareness that the melody will fade somehow central to the joy it brings?

What if the certainty of death was really the secret sweetener of life?

We regularly shake our fists and rage against the fragility, finiteness, and temporary nature of our joys… insisting they become life’s permanent features.

How much wiser an investment of my emotional capital would it be to heed the wisdom of the ages and exercise my gratitude muscles during those sweet, special, holy, precious moments of life.

Is it possible that the grief we feel at life’s passing nature comes from our realization that we failed to hug it tightly to our chests while we had it?

“Dear God… Help me make today the start of a new practice of gratitude and thanksgiving for everything you have laid on my plate.  AMEN.”

19
Feb
20

The Path

Pathway“To know me…” my friend Rick used to say, always with a sly smirk, “… is to love me.”

And for most of us, that certainly is the logical order of things.

Step 1: Get to know someone. Or something. Step 2: Decide whether you love them or not. Step 3: Relate accordingly.

As the mystics tell us though, it is exactly the opposite with God. According to one of my favorite writers on faith matters, Fr. Richard Rohr, we cannot truly KNOW God until we first LOVE God.

And so for skeptics and non-believers, this order of things presents a giant obstacle. “Let me examine the evidence first,” they might say. “Let me weigh up the pros and cons, interview the eyewitnesses, search the literature for secondary warrants and then – and ONLY then – will I make my own, scientifically-informed decision about how I feel.”

The problem with the scientific/rational approach – as the scriptures tell us – lies in God’s essence. 1 John 4:16 reminds us, “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”

It’s not that the path of intellectual assent to the reality of God is weak or flawed. It’s that it is simply not AVAILABLE.

In other words, we can’t study our way to union with God  (with apologies to my seminary profs). We can only love our way there. Or as The Teacher reminds us, “Of anything beyond these, my child, beware. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.”(Ecclesiastes 12:12, NRSV).

Words to live by.

But trust me… they won’t suffice as an excuse for not turning in your homework.

07
Nov
19

Outside in

Here where I live, today is a good day to be inside.

Though it is bright and sunny, it is also cold… like 25 degrees cold.

And so even as I practice gratitude for my ability to be sheltered from windy, 25-degree conditions, I like to maintain a connection with the outside.

Hence, this perfect perch:Woodland perch

Here I am inside… safe, warm, and dry. And yet the outside is right there, just beyond my fingertips.

As a documented extrovert, I am metaphorically “outside” most of the time. I like meeting people, talking to them, telling jokes, and just generally hanging out with them.

“Outside” is my jam. People are my favorite… people.

But there is a downside to all this glad-handed, people-pleasing extroversion. We extros (as we like to be called) are occasionally guilty of disregarding the value of “inside” time. We aren’t terribly quick to take hold of those moments of solitary pause and reflection and celebrate their value.

I mean sure if we find ourselves stuck on a rowboat without a companion or network connection we MIGHT engage in a little self-reflective navel-gazing.

Maybe.

Truth be told though, that inside stuff makes us a little nervous. We aren’t always sure we want to see the kind of sticky, icky stuff we might run into if we got too quiet or look too closely.

But if I aspire to call myself a writer – as I most certainly do – I know I need to come to grips with the inside life. Actually, all of us can benefit from a little inwardness from time to time. We would all do well to turn off the TV, pause Pandora, shut down the chit-chat and listen to the stillness of our souls.

Maybe what I need to find is one of those California-style indoor/outdoor rooms for my soul. Something like this would allow me to be outside when I am in, and inside when I am out: Indoor outdoor space

How about you? Are you an extrovert who struggles with quiet, alone time? Or are you on the opposite end of the Myers-Briggs scale and find you would rather undergo a root canal than spend time with other people?

What are your coping strategies? How do you push beyond your self-imposed boundaries now and then?

It is worth reminding each of us that no matter how we are wired, we are each “fearfully and wonderfully made,” according to the Lord of the Universe.

And you can take that (out) to the bank!

22
Jan
19

Maintenance Man

sweeping the floorIf it is out, I need to put it away.

If it is crinkled, I need to iron it.

If it is dirty, I need to clean it.

If it is untidy, I need to tidy it.

If it is askew, I need to straighten it.

If it is awry, I need to set it right.

Immediately.

Right away.

Without delay.

Because…

Who knows what manner of chaos might be unleashed on the world otherwise?

In the meantime

While all of the externals of my world are getting squared and lined up nicely

While I’s are being properly dotted and T’s are concisely crossed

The world within is in shambles.

Half-drunk cans of Diet Coke

Potato chip crumbs and

Cookie wrappers

Litter the floor.

Dust bunnies the size of tumbleweeds

Roll hungrily along interior walls

Looking for mates

Or possibly victims to devour.

This cleanup task is invisible

Overwhelming

And so it remains undone.

I want to leave it to the experts.

The specialists and witch doctors…

They know this stuff SOOOOO much better than I do.

I can’t be trusted to tend and feed anything as delicate

As sensitive

As temperamental

As a soul.

Can I?

12
Nov
18

It’s Just hair

Well, it’s gone.

We knew the day was coming. Ever since my wife’s cancer diagnosis in late September and the ensuing prescription for chemotherapy, we knew the days of her beautiful, flowing, auburn hair were numbered.

It’s just what happens when those powerful cancer-killing chemicals go racing through a person’s body.

Personally, I was expecting trauma and heartbreak when “HAIR GONE” day came… from me, that is. I knew SHE would handle it just fine.

In fact, anticipating a sky-high level of emotional devastation, I wrote her a lovely little free verse poem called, “It’s Just Hair” to help cushion the blow. (I would share it here, but it is a little too personal and intimate.)

So then, as the stuff began showing up on the pillowcase and coming out in clumps, we realized it was time.

As her hairdresser came to our home one night and gently, lovingly buzzed it right down to the scalp, we were both surprisingly OK. No hair Joan

I went to the utility room, got the broom and dustpan, swept it all up, and tossed it.

BOOM.

GONE.

We looked at her mirrored reflection and marveled at how lovely and round and symmetrical her head is. I made jokes about polishing her “dome” with a cloth now and then.

And then we kissed and smiled, looked each other in the eye and said, “It’s just hair.”

As these things often do, it caused me to lapse into reflection.

Joan with turbanI thought about how easily and how often in my life I have confused form and substance. I mused over the question of why I do that and how annoyingly frequently it occurs. I asked myself, “Self… how is it that you are so quick to recognize the difference between ‘hair’ and ‘her,’ when it comes to your spouse, and yet are often so slow to grant others the same grace?”

And then I got global and wondered, “Am I the only one who puts unreasonable confidence in outward, surface appearances and punts on the hard work of diving a little deeper and trying a little harder to understand the souls of other people?”
And I thought, “Naaaaaah. Probably not.”

I also realized it was time to pull out 2 Corinthians 4:18, commit it to memory and try, yet again, to live by its wise guidance: “… because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”

Abundant blessings;




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