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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Let's Get It Right

With a name like Kelly, St. Patrick's day has always been a fun one for me. Green is my favorite color, and my eyes are green too, so I have always been able to get through St. Patty's day unscathed (and un-pinched!)

Yet it's only in the last few years, as I have seen the holiday reduced to yet another reason for the world to get roaring drunk ~ this time on green beer ~ that I have tried to find out the real meaning behind St. Patrick's Day.

Rather than rehearse all the history here, feel free to spend a few minutes surfing around the internet. But these three things stand out to me:

Do you know that according to legend, Saint Patrick used the shamrock, a three-leaved plant, to explain the Holy Trinity to the pre-Christian Irish people? I mean, WOW.

That the story of Patrick is that of a brave missionary? This is what I read this morning in my devotional:
At the age of sixteen, Patrick was kidnapped from his home by Irish marauders and taken to Ireland, where he was sold as a slave to a chieftain and forced to herd livestock. After six years of slavery, Patrick escaped to his native Britain. Because he believed that his captivity and deliverance were ordained by God, Patrick devoted his life to ministry. While studying for the priesthood, he experienced recurring dreams in which he heard voices say, “O holy youth, come back to Erin and walk once more amongst us.” He convinced his superiors to let him return to Ireland in 432, not to seek revenge for injustice but to seek reconciliation and to spread his faith. Over the next thirty years, Patrick established churches and monastic communities across Ireland. When he was not engaged in the work of spreading the Christian faith, Patrick spent his time praying in his favorite places of solitude and retreat.

Finally, there is an absolutely lovely prayer attributed to Patrick. I'm going to memorize it:

Christ be with me,

Christ before me,

Christ behind me,

Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,

Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,

Christ in every eye that sees me,

Christ in every ear that hears me.

In a recent prayer I memorized during Christmas and the New Year, once sentence hit me over and over:
"Dear Jesus, help us to spread your fragrance everywhere we go."
St. Patrick is a stunning example of that, and we have collectively lost sight of that faithful, historic, world-changing witness. On this St. Patrick's Day, let's put St. Patrick back where he belongs, and look for ways to gently inform others of the meaning behind this true "holy-day."

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


To have faith is to rely upon Christ, the Person, with the whole heart. It is not the understanding of the mind, not the theological opinion, not creed, not organization, not ritual. It is the koinonia of the whole personality with God and Christ. This experience of communion with Christ is itself the continual attitude of dependence on the Saviour which we call

... Kokichi Kurosaki (1886-1970), One Body in Christ, Kobe,
Japan: Eternal Life Press, 1954

I don't know about you, but I have been gripped by the tragedy in Japan. I was equally affected by the devastation in Haiti, and tuned in constantly as the news unfolded a few years ago with the tsunami in Indonesia.

One things feels slightly different to me with this however. For some reason, my heart is that much more burdened by this tragedy ~ in part I think because there is such little Christian presence in Japan. On Sunday night I saw two family members reunited, after not being able to find each other after 3 harrowing days. Yet when they saw each other, there was no physical touch. Instead, they bowed repeatedly to one another.

Admittedly, I saw other tearful embraces in other news clips. But this one stayed with me. I ask you to join me in praying for true koinonia for Japan in the midst of such agony. May they be touched the Spirit in their raw pain. May the church step in and persist in ministering to the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of Japan. May believers remain for weeks, months, and even years to provide the support that is needed in such a time.

To quote Bob Pierce, founder of World Vision:
"Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God.
Allow yourself to keep watching, and praying about, the events in Japan.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Clean Sweep

And as we prepare ourselves for Easter during these days, by prayer and by self-denial, what motivates us and what fills the horizon is not self-denial as an end in itself but trying to sweep and clean the room of our own minds and hearts so that the new life really may have room to come in and take over and transform us at Easter.
~ Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury

Sunday, March 6, 2011


I read two things from Nouwen this week about our covenant relationship with God that got my attention:

God's Covenant
God made a covenant with us. The word covenant means "coming together." God wants to come together with us. In many of the stories in the Hebrew Bible, we see that God appears as a God who defends us against our enemies, protects us against dangers, and guides us to freedom. God is God-for-us. When Jesus comes a new dimension of the covenant is revealed. In Jesus, God is born, grows to maturity, lives, suffers, and dies as we do. God is God-with-us. Finally, when Jesus leaves he promises the Holy Spirit. In the Holy Spirit, God reveals the full depth of the covenant. God wants to be as close to us as our breath. God wants to breathe in us, so that all we say, think and do is completely inspired by God. God is God-within-us. Thus God's covenant reveals to us to how much God loves us.

God's faithfulness and ours
When God makes a covenant with us, God says: "I will love you with an everlasting love. I will be faithful to you, even when you run away from me, reject me, or betray me." In our society we don't speak much about covenants; we speak about contracts. When we make a contract with a person, we say: "I will fulfill my part as long as you fulfill yours. When you don't live up to your promises, I no longer have to live up to mine." Contracts are often broken because the partners are unwilling or unable to be faithful to their terms.

But God didn't make a contract with us; God made a covenant with us, and God wants our relationships with one another to reflect that covenant. That's why marriage, friendship, life in community are all ways to give visibility to God's faithfulness in our lives together.

God-for us. God-with-us. God-within-us. Clearly, this is the MOST reliable relationship in our lives! And if we give Him our best energy and attention, we are then filled with all we need to be able to truly give to others. As Nouwen wrote elsewhere, "It is very hard for love not to become possessive because our hearts look for perfect love and no human being is capable of that. Only God can offer perfect love."

It took me far too long to learn this. For so many years I gave the bulk of my relational attention and energy to my friends, and then the crumbs to God. But I was looking for something to come of my human relationships that they were not capable of fulfilling. They usually crumbled under the strain of my need. He patiently waited for me to see the folly of my shallow, insecure ways. I desperately wanted security, safety and constancy. Only He can give us those things.

So as I approach Ash Wednesday this week, I want to enter the Lenten season as an opportunity for me to extend, broaden, and deepen my safe, nurturing, dependable relationship with God. As Stuart Malloy says in some reflections on Lent,
Lent is a season that reminds us to repent and get our lives centered, our priorities straight, and our hearts clean. This holy season offers us a new chance to say, "yes" to the Lover of our Souls who created us, who made us in his own image. Lent is the time for a restoration project that will reveal the beauty of God’s design for us, showing once again the scale, proportion, and priorities intended by our Maker.
So I will take these next few days to consider what I will "give up" for Lent. Only because in giving up something (a meal, a habit, an item...) I can use the time or money that I would normally use in the thing given up to instead reflect, pray, and repent. As I do that, I will know Him that much better.

How do you want to grow in your own discipleship? I will be looking at the things that might be taking up too much of my time, or serve as attractive distractions. The thing you give up may not be inherently "bad," but just something that you can let go of for a few weeks in order to focus on higher, more eternal things.

Most importantly, we need to s-t-r-e-t-c-h. Lent is not about convenience. It's about covenant. God has made a commitment to us to which He is constantly, utterly, undyingly faithful. The least I can do is respond with gratitude and humble sacrifice ~ albeit paltry in comparison to His remarkable, generous, abundant love.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Trading Spaces

I read something this morning that echoed another idea I ran into last Friday, so I'm trying to pay close attention. Is God telling me something?

Here's what I read this morning:
Discipline is the other side of discipleship. Discipleship without discipline is like waiting to run in the marathon without ever practicing. Discipline without discipleship is like always practicing for the marathon but never participating. It is important, however, to realize that discipline in the spiritual life is not the same as discipline in sports. Discipline in sports is the concentrated effort to master the body so that it can obey the mind better. Discipline in the spiritual life is the concentrated effort to create the space and time where God can become our master and where we can respond freely to God's guidance.

Thus, discipline is the creation of boundaries that keep time and space open for God. Solitude requires discipline, worship requires discipline, caring for others requires discipline. They all ask us to set apart a time and a place where God's gracious presence can be acknowledged and responded to. (Henri Nouwen)
The tension between discipline and discipleship is so clearly stated in these simple paragraphs. In some ways, they define the spiritual wrestling match of my life in Christ. I so earnestly want to grow, and make grand plans. But putting one foot in front of the other, day in and day out, and just practicing what I preach is the real measure of my maturity, and it is the place I sometimes falter.

Thankfully, the words I read just 4 days earlier helped me make some forward movement in this regard. Here is what I read last Friday:
Sacred Space: Thinking About Where We Pray

Without a doubt we can pray anywhere, but there is something to be said for having a space that is reserved for prayer. Scripture makes it clear that God doesn’t dwell in buildings made by hand any more than God is in the streets or alleys. Still, most of our homes have places where we eat, play, or work. There are also places where God leaves a mark. To be sure, the church is not the building but the people. But it can be nice to have a special place to meet the God we love.

One thing we see in Scripture is that folks like Jacob are commanded to mark the sacred space where God met them, to remember. As we look at spaces like a chapel or a shrine in the Holy Land, we remember not the magic of a physical space but the magic of what God did and who God is; we are reminded that this entire planet is filled with sacred spaces where God meets people.

Consider creating a space where you can get on your knees in the “secret chamber” and be with God. A friend from Brazil started a tradition of tacking prayers on her wall, so she could pray simply by looking at the walls and remembering the needs of her neighborhood and all the prayers God has answered. Some of us keep things that remind us to pray for others, like dog tags of soldiers whose faith has called them to leave the military or a crack valve or a bullet from the streets in our neighborhoods. It is important to remember the things that happen on our streets, both good and bad. (Common Prayer, February 25)
After reading this second passage, I took some time the day after, on Saturday, to think about what a "sacred space" could look like at home. I ended up not just designating a certain chair (the rocking chair in the corner of my room), but also the "wall" described in the last paragraph.

I dug out a map of the world that I have that folds up nicely into 5"x7". I spread it out before me, and looked at the places in my life that I want to keep before me. I grabbed a small post-it note pad, and start sticking some post-its around the continents...
  • I have friends serving Christ in the Philippines, Argentina, Guatemala and Madagascar. I scratched out simple prayers for them, and noted the date.
  • I lifted up the turmoil going on throughout the Arab world and the Middle East right now, praying for Egypt, Bahrain, Tunisia, Libya... not to mention Palestine, Iraq, Israel, Iran.
  • I wrote down a prayer for healing and rebuilding in New Zealand after their recent earthquake, and perseverance for Haiti a year later.
  • Closer to home, I listed prayers for Providence Hall, for the Free Methodist Conference of Southern California, for my bible study, my family and for the community I live in.
  • Then, I pulled out my new edition of Operation World, an amazing guide to prayer for the entire planet. I bought my first copy in 2000, and a new edition just came out around Christmas. While I strongly recommend that you purchase the book, the website lists ways to pray daily. The book marks out a way to pray for a country in very specific ways for each day of the year. I read it every Saturday and spend time praying for world concerns. More post-it notes got slapped onto my "prayer wall."
I share this with you as something you can ask me about (Kelly, are you still praying over your map?) and as an idea for yourself. I really like the image of the astronaut at the top of this post. With God we can be world travelers, opening our hearts and souls to the needs of the world, caring about the things that God cares about. Amazingly, this opens us up to the world right in front of us too.

My housemate shared a quote with me that sums this up best:
"May God break my heart so completely that the whole world falls in." Mother Teresa
Let's push one another to carve out sacred spaces in our daily lives, and give ourselves over to the discipline of true, heartfelt, soul-feeding, life-changing discipleship.