Receiving seems so tied to what we think we deserve. God’s generosity feels really elusive in that context, doesn’t it? But, as always, God does love to work through people.
My brother’s passing a few weeks ago put me in a position of having to ask for a lot of help: Transportation, cat care, a place to stay, a rearranged work schedule. In all of that I approached who I thought could help me best and received more than I expected.
At the Cincinnati end of things, my cats barely noticed I was gone and seemed to thrive under the care of their Auntie Michelle.
At the Door County end, my friend’s home was inviting, compassionate; she and her family held me with the true meaning of lovingkindness. Through her I met a new colleague at the Tricklebee Café; on my way home, I introduced her to another dear friend and colleague for a ladies’ lunch of joyful proportions.
A mentor, David Neagle, whom I have often quoted on this, reminds me again that each of us does this alone, but none of us can do it without help. Grief is the most desolate of feelings, and that weekend the Wisconsin landscape, as cold, barren and show-laden as you can imagine, reflected all that grief gives us.
Because grief gives us a lot.
Grief gave me, gives each of us, a parallel world in which to suffer the anguish of loss, but have the vision of the fullness of our lives, held for us in the care of those around us. We move back and forth as we can, as we need to. Receiving this spacious place as refuge is, I believe, a gift from God. God knows sorrow too, and is well acquainted with grief.
And that is a lot, more than I expected.
Every morning I honor three familiar Moravian traditions: Reading the Moravian Daily Texts, writing in my personal journal and drinking coffee.
I love that these traditions, devotional study, personal reflection on God’s activity and fellowship with a favorite beverage, have been part of our community for generations. Each one offers a steadfast reminder of God’s love over the course of time. More so, they are avenues of grace, vital practices that cultivate my faith. They assist me in knowing, loving and serving God in the life I am living now.
As I sip my coffee, I often think of God as Great Mystery, which requires me to pay attention and listen as a disciple. A wonderful Roald Dahl quote hanging on my refrigerator helps point me along this path of deeper awareness: “Watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you, because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in the magic will never find it.”
Compassion, kindness, generosity of spirit and forgiveness, these are all first nurtured by observing the way Jesus interacted with people, then seeing how people responded to Him. That is God’s grace in action. It’s fluidity and beauty isn’t magic, but it surely feels like that when we trust ourselves, God and the very human examples we are privy to in so many of our daily readings, that are also still so relevant in our own relationships.
God’s wisdom is unconventional, and it takes intention and practice to experience the full power of its richness in this unfolding plan. Even within a basic routine, I don’t know what the day will bring. But Great Mystery teaches me to see everything as being done for me, not to me, and always in ways that make sense to me.
These daily verses you and I share, and the reflections I write in response to them, have taught me several important life lessons.
One lesson is that how I talk to myself matters. Harsh criticism rarely helps and often hinders. The prophet Jeremiah, sharing God’s message with those experiencing the Babylonian exile, wrote, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you with unfailing kindness (Jeremiah 31:3). My internal fluency is improving.
Another lesson is to hear other people’s words without attaching how I feel to what I am hearing. Taking a deep breath, asking a question when I don’t understand or need more information are helpful in discerning what someone meant, or didn’t mean, in how they used their words.
This lesson’s close cousin is to remember that each of us thinks in our own way, and usually not the way that I think. It is here that I am called to claim the full truth of God’s equal and abundant love for each of us. To stay in this stride is to always do my best to pay attention for and respond to God’s activity in my life.
As I continue to sip my coffee, copying the weekly watchword, daily verses and my own watchword for the year, I also write about the intricate weaving of conversations and events that reveal God as Incomprehensible Orchestration all around me. I love catching onto what God has done, how I have welcomed my own participation, and, sometimes, how my fears may have kept me on the edge of a great step forward.
Incomprehensible Orchestration is about faith as a verb.
Faith is risk and with risk comes fear. But making the effort to understand how God has worked makes seeing God in action much easier. And with that ease comes greater trust the next time the chance comes to act. This is the greatest lesson my morning devotional time has taught me: Perseverance proves out in the end when I trust what I know to be God in action.
Although my devotional time is private, I’m pleased to spend time with people you know too.
Remember Lydia? We visited earlier this summer. She was a purple cloth dealer from Thyatira and a worshipper of God. She listened intently, eagerly, to what Paul had to say, having allowed God to open her heart. Fellowship is something that we Moravians hold dear. Lydia is someone I want to have coffee with again soon.
Reading the Daily Text, keeping journals and drinking coffee in fellowship with one another are beautiful Moravian traditions. They remain fresh as powerfully rich transformational resources. They are custom tools by which we shape ourselves, grow our community, by God’s grace in action among us.
*Author's Note: I wrote My Back to School Prayer in the fall of 2005, but felt it was still timely today.
Our neighborhood school bus just deposited its cargo at the corner down the block from my house.
It's taken me awhile to settle back into the routine of not nearing playful screams and giggles outside, seeing bicycles dart up and down the street and waiting to have the winner declared for the twilight street hockey games.
Children bring vitality and a lively rhythm to the neighborhood, and I missed that most when the first bus comes, collecting and containing all that energy and exuberance on its journey to be educated and shaped for the future.
I suppose it is timely then, that I am beginning to receive requests to add my name to others that support formalized prayer as part of the school day, petitions that ask me to tell President Bush to reinstate school prayer.
Although I appreciate and respect the expression of faith represented in these requests, I do not believe that this gift from God can or should be placed in the hands of our political leaders or our educators for distribution to our children.
Implied in petitions of this sort is that prayer can only happen in school if President Bush signs a law into being, and then tells us is a requirement. Do we really believe that our elected officials hold such power, and if we do, is that power greater than the relational capacity of God's grace to work through us and among us?
Over coffee a few days ago, my friend claimed her right and responsibility as a parent and a person of faith to teach her children about prayer. That includes when they can pray, where they can pray, and helping them develop their relationship with the God to whom they pray.
I respected her passionate commitment to give her children a firm foundation from which to launch themselves into the world, and her recognition that when we choose legalized prayer in schools we are one step closer to a state-sponsored religion that excludes many other religions.
00That crossed a line for both of us into the waters of unconstitutionality.
While we both believe we must live our faith as a consistently integrated part of our lives, we do not believe that dictating a specific religious agenda, especially as basic as communicating with one's Creator, is what a living faith exemplifies.
For myself, I am at a loss as to why some people believe that not having a school prayer law keeps people from praying at school. How can a law determine anyone's words from their heart and soul to their God or from their God to them?
Implicit in all discussion raised in the debate for school prayer laws is the belief that an exterior social structure can limit or deny human access to God, and that God has no say in the matter at all. Prayer being a communicative act between human beings and God, my understanding is that God has a full voice in the matter.
The Bible is clear that nothing separates us from God or God's love for us. I would add that nothing can keep us from communicating with God, talking and listening, except our own free will.
As much as our citizenship in the United States informs our lives, it does not exist to abdicate to our government our personal authority in our children's lives or to limit someone else's faith by seemingly expanding and making us feel more comfortable with our own.
Prayer already exists in schools. How else do some teachers make it through the day and return to their jobs the next?
What can increase prayer in schools on the part of the students is not a government-mandated rule to pray, but parents teaching their children about prayer, and how they can use available time at school to pray in a way that makes sense for them.
Prayer is a gift from God to steward wisely as an instrument of faith, not a weapon of politics or a theology of control. My back-to-school prayer is that those who choose to pray will have been taught how, and will know that it is their choice, as people of faith, to pray whenever they can, wherever they can.