A Picture is Worth…

20 03 2012

Over the years, one analogy I’ve used to describe “God moments” amid my daily living is snapshots – light streaming through autumn leaves bathing a fence…snapshot; a red-tailed hawk gliding in a quiet sky…snapshot; two weather-worn wooden chairs waiting to support a good conversation…snapshot; a sunrise horizon over the Atlantic blurring definition between water and sky…snapshot.

Within the past several years, I have discovered a path to express my gratefulness for these “thin place” moments of snapshots with…well…snapshots. Photography has become an important way for me to see, express, and share God’s presence within creation and among us.

Last year, my friend Marsha (who knows my growing love of photography and shares a similar spiritual journey), introduced me to a blog by Eileen Campbell Reed (eileencampbellreed.org). In October and November of 2011, some of Eileen’s posts include pictures – taken by Eileen (or by her camera) – which then are described by six words…six-word stories. Marsha encouraged me to use my photos to create my own stories. What a gift!  Another avenue into meditation and prayer!

I will never capture the fullness of God’s presence within my photographs…God’s presence can never be fully captured with words, nor with images. Still, this particular taste of expression feeds my hungry soul with satisfaction.

So with thanks to Eileen Campbell Reed and my friend Marsha, and honoring my colleague and friend John Ballenger whose passion and recognition of the significance of the number 7 within life and the biblical text is contagious, the following is my attempt to offer seven-word stories. I’d love to hear yours as well!

Image

Relationship…

listening…

Being present…

Sacred space…

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Horizons – On the Edge

25 08 2011

I woke at 5:40 a.m. – another early morning at the beach. My body wanted to stay in bed – my spirit dragged me to the window. Like opening a gift that contained the thing you want most in the world, I pulled back the shades to reveal the rays of the pre-dawn sun barely illuminating the horizon – a deep blue sky above; darkness still swimming across the waters below; but that thin place in between – a deep, warm red-orange glow lining the horizon. I grabbed my tripod and camera, and soon found myself wading in sand.

 

With feet and tripod dug into sand, I looked over the Atlantic, snapping pictures, standing in awe – then somewhere in between the two, Light began to illuminate what was within. From the distant horizon in my soul, Truth exposed a spiritual desert within. I couldn’t seem to find my center – the Center. Somehow the Center would need to find me. Instead of standing there on the beach, my soul felt like fleeing to the mountains – my sanctuary…to nestle into coves and hollows; to lean against foothills; to rest in the shade of mountain peaks; to stroll along high ridges; to soar from lofty vistas.

 

Yet, there I was, on the edge of a vast ocean: openness; uncovered, nothing to nestle into; nothing offering midday shade; no lofty terrain to soar from; nothing to lean into except breaking waves. Open and exposed…just me, an empty lifeguard chair, and the burning horizon illuminating whom I really was; illuminating the truth as to where I really was – no place to hide from me.

 

But it was okay. Underneath the restlessness…within my soul’s desire to take sanctuary in higher elevations…in the midst of feeling lost – there was a peace. There was an opportunity here – an opportunity to be found. A transformation was in motion (and still is).  As I stood at the ocean’s edge, struggling to comprehend its vastness, I was brought to the edge of trust.

 

I have to trust that the waters continue beyond the ever-brightening horizon…that they continue beyond the reach of my eyesight. Isn’t this the way of faith? Some things I can see…but I can only see so far. I can only know what I know up to this very moment. Because of my limitations, I cannot know it all. It comes to the point where the known meets the unknown…when I cannot step into the future with full certainty. Here, at the edge, I have a choice – I can choose what is safe, what I know, what has already been lived; or I can choose to risk and step toward what is before me, toward the unknown, toward the horizon God holds for me. I can choose to step into what I do not know for certain – letting go of pre-conceived notions…using fear’s fuel as energy to propel me toward adventure…letting go of who I think I will become and trusting that God is creating me to be more than I can image. This is an opportunity to go deeper…deeper within ourselves…deeper into others…deeper into God – stepping up to edge of and then into what we fully do not understand or know. With faith we trust the Spirit goes before us preparing the way…preparing us.

 

As I stood gazing over the beautiful painted horizon, I was reminded of a quote by Andre Gide:

 

We cannot discover new oceans

 

unless we have the courage to lose sight of
the shore.

 





Simple Conversations

15 05 2011

If we pay attention…if we are awake…if we live with an attitude of humbleness…if we approach each day with a “beginner’s mind,” we become aware that God’s love is soaking us like a spring rain – nourishing us in ways we cannot imagine…from simple, surprising sources…inviting us to risk growth and wanting to turn our lives upside down.

So was the invitation during a routine prayer (is any prayer routine?), on a recent Sunday, offered by an almost thirteen year-old who lives in my house. If I pay attention…if my spirit stays awake…if I live with an attitude of humbleness…if I approach each day with a “beginner’s mind”…

Here’s God’s soaking love poured out through a prayer offered by one of the least of these:

Before I go on with the prayer, I’d like to say a few words to think about before and during the prayer:

A lot of the times we pray, we thank God for everything He’s given us. I believe He enjoys everyday hearing us say “thank you”. But I also think that sometimes He just likes to hear us say that we genuinely love what He has given us. I think He is so happy when we’re happy…that sometimes he just likes us to say it out loud.

So I invite you into silence and then a voiced corporate prayer.

Dear God,

I love the smell of flowers in the spring.

I love to laugh with my friends.

I love chocolate.

I love when my stomach flips on a roller coaster.

I love wearing pajamas until one on Saturdays.

I love reading a book alone when it rains.

I love singing loudly and very off key.

I love life.

I love liberty.

I love pursuing happiness.

I love knowing I have people who love me.

God, I love knowing that you love me.


Finally, thank You for giving us these things, allowing us these things, and showing us how to love these things. Amen.

(prayer by Lara Cochran)





Story Within Us

8 05 2011

Our Youth led worship at Woodbrook Baptist Church on Mother’s Day. They chose as the worship theme, The Biblical Story – God with us Genesis to Revelation and beyond. What a wonderful job they did as they read, spoke, sang, prayed, and danced – what beautiful individuals they are! Following are words I spoke at the end of the service:

Today is about story – creation, the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9), Esther, Pslams, Daniel, Jesus with children, Jesus with an outcast, the Spirit rushing in like wind, letters from long ago, and living into the Mystery of what is to be . And in the last hour we have experienced story through the spoken word, through lyrics, through instruments and through movement. We’ve experienced it in meditation and through prayer…through Spirit and Truth.

The benediction today is taken from Revelation…the end of our biblical text. After Audrey pronounces these words of blessing and guidance it would be easy to believe…it would be easy to close the text and say that we are finished – finished with worship…finished hearing the Story. But this is not true…the story is never finished, for we are never finished – we are in process…working out our salvation…God’s prayer continually flowing through us. Whether we are aware of it or not…whether we believe it or not…God’s story continues within us…in our story that we live daily. The Spirit that blew through those on that day so long ago in Jerusalem…blows through us…dwells with and in us…longing to help us live into the greatest story. Our part is to be open and aware, day-by-day…moment-by-moment, to the unfolding God-narrative within us, and all around us.

Do you see?

The creative power found in Genesis is our story too – we are created in the image of God.

The responsibility planted in the Shema is planted in us as well – there are precious children at our feet…wonderful youth walking beside us.

The deep God-courage of Esther is available to us – we too are challenged to stand fast within the winds of wrong.

The honesty of deep emotions and hard questions expressed by the psalmist to God, are the same deep emotions and questions that rise within us – what conversation do you long to have with God?

The faith of Daniel in the face of insurmountable odds is a seed within us as well – lion dens do you have to walk into.

The life Jesus lived invites us daily to live a counter-cultural life – speaking to the outcast; touching the untouchable; loving radically; uttering words of healing; planting peace; pointing out injustices and living Truth – Jesus says to us, “Follow me.”

The same Spirit that saw potential hovering over the face of the deep…that stirred hearts 2000 years ago…that moved Paul, Martin Luther, Harriett Tubman, Richard Fuller, Annie Armstrong, Clyde Atkins, Martin Luther King, Jr. Sonya Park…is also the Spirit that stirs within you – be still and know God.

Just as was done through the letters of Paul and Timothy, the opportunities to speak of our faith…to encourage others and to be encourage…to build relationships…is a daily invitation.

And the adventure continues…God continually revealing God’s self…calling us, loving us, pulling us forward – can you hear the echoes of God speaking your name? Can you feeling the deep longings of your heart?

So as you leave this sanctuary today…the biblical story continues…for our story continues – where will you take it? Where will it take you?





The Tuesday after Easter

26 04 2011

So what difference does Easter make – this Tuesday after the most Holy day?

I got up this morning and made lunches for the children just as I have done on past Tuesdays? Creation seems the same –flowers blooming, trees budding, critters scurrying like last Tuesday. The schedules of people around me seem consistent with pre-Easter schedules – busy. Could it be that Easter is just another day? Just another day set aside for eggs, bunnies, and stories? Could it be just a blip on our annual calendar? I mean…we’ve heard the Easter story plenty of times. Maybe it becomes just another story. It’s just a story isn’t it? Just a blip?

But what if…what if we believed this story? What if this story is true? What if this story is more than a blip? What if Jesus experienced a “passion week”: died and resurrected?  Would this make a difference in our living…really? Would we see each other in a different light? Would our appreciation for life be affected? Would the way we go about loving others and creation be transformed? Would the way we love ourselves include more light and less darkness? Would the way we accept love take on a new perspective? Would we view ourselves as lovable?

It’s easy to vote for the “blip” candidate…routine is easier. I know what to do…I know what’s expected of me. I don’t have to change. Keeping the Easter story at “just-a-story arms length” seems less risky…safer. The question is am I willing to live with all this choice means? Am I experiencing the fullness of all life has to offer? Am I really living? Do I want to be loved fully and fully love?

It seems like more often than not, we try to go in the back door to grasp onto love…to make sure we are loved. I’ll say what I think you want to hear…I’ll do what I think you want me to do and in return you will pay me in “love.” Deal? Let’s not talk directly but in oblique conversations…just in case. Too, we believe we must give something in return for what someone gives or does for us. We feel we have to pay for the love someone bestows on us. Some of us believe that we are loved because someone is supposed to love us…the other has no choice. Always some kind of string attached.

But if this story is true about Jesus, then a new reality of love is suggested. There doesn’t have to be any bartering…no back doors. This reality says we are loved not because God is supposed to love us but because God wants to love us. No strings attached. There is freedom here…no chains of shoulds and ought tos.

And if love implies relationship, let’s then take a look from the other side – in what form does God desire our love? Does God want our love in the form of “supposed to?” Does God require our love because God “does things” for us? If we are truthful, I suspect these are our modes of loving God most days. But I imagine that God would desire from us the kind of love we most long for – unconditional…(we are made in the image of God).

Radical, isn’t it, how the Truth of a story can challenge us…invite us…Love us…on this Tuesday after Easter…everyday after Easter (which eventually becomes before Easter too).





Invitation to Wholeness

10 04 2011

Opportunities to move toward wholeness rise from the most unexpected places, in the most unexpected ways…but if we would pay attention to the counter-cultural way Jesus lived, the way the Spirit speaks, to our past experiences with God – the unexpected becomes the expected…

New Mexico is a beautiful place with an array of beautiful ecosystems and landscapes. The Well for the Journey’s southwest pilgrimage provided a wonderful opportunity to learn more about desert and Native American spirituality…and to feed my new passion for photography! As the pilgrimage went along, my fellow pilgrims began to kid me about my addiction to my camera…but I didn’t want to miss a thing!

One beautiful day, our pilgrimage took us into a beautiful, remote, sacred space – Chaco Canyon. Chaco Canyon embraces pueblo ruins that date back a thousand years. My camera started buzzing as soon as we turned down the ten-mile dirt road to the park and continued all day long, wanting to capture what I saw and experienced…I wanted to take it all home. And the bonus…because of our long day, we anticipated a spectacular high desert sunset!

My day was going well: wide open sacred space, new friends, my camera, and a hike on top of a mesa. That’s when it happened…my camera battery light began to flash! “This can’t be!” I thought. I shuffled through my morning memories: fresh batteries from the charger; made sure I turned the camera off after each use; extra batteries…my stomach sank…I forgot extra batteries! I began some serious strategic planning about how to conserve the batteries I had when I became aware of this voice from within, “It’s okay. Just enjoy the experience…the day.” Now, this voice could have come from one of two places: from subconscious, trying to rationalize and prepare myself for what was inevitable; or from the Spirit encouraging me to listen…to just be in creation…to engage in a Holy conversation. By the time I rejoined my fellow pilgrims, my camera was dead and I was trying my best to lean on the Voice calling me to “just let this camera thing go and to be with the Creator in this sacred place.”

However, as we packed up for our return trip, I felt the call of my camera. Out of nowhere I heard my voice blurt out, “Does anyone have extra batteries?” No luck…(sigh). Then again I heard, “Greg. Just let it go…be with Me. Nothing you take home can capture the grandeur and mystery that is in this place at this time.” Deep in my soul I understood what I was being invited to do – to move toward wholeness, but with the sweet afternoon light painting the canyon walls, my stubborn spirit did not hear the Truth that my soul understood. Just when I thought I had dealt with this issue, out of nowhere that stubborn spirit broke through my seemingly calm surface of self-control – the Chaco’s National Park store! “Surely they will have batteries…saved!” As I entered the store, I walked confidently…righteously…up to the cashier and asked, “Where are your batteries?” Devastation swept over me as I heard his reply, “We don’t carry batteries.”

You would think that I would finally get it and rest in what was at hand…to take time and enjoy the gift of nature around me, but driving out of the canyon, with the sun anticipating a kiss with the western horizon, I had one more fleeting, desperate thought – the store at the intersection with the main road…maybe. But disappointment was a loyal friend, staying right by my side – we were behind schedule and stopping was not an option.

Then the late afternoon Light kissed my heart – I had missed the point of everything the day had offered. In trying to “capture” creation…the spirit of the place, in trying to hold onto images and take them home, in being distracted by my “wanting” and the pursuit to get my hands on materials (batteries), through my unawareness of God’s attempts of engaging me in conversation, in not letting go, in trying to make Chaco Canyon “mine” – I missed the true beauty of the day. I missed a deeper communion with God. I missed out on true freedom and bound myself with worries of things I did not have and with fear that I might miss a “shot”. I missed out on deeper community with my fellow pilgrims. At the end of the day, when I was looking up into the star, spangled sky, I realized the lesson of the day…“creation is not mine.” All that I saw and experienced was a gift. And if I love the Creator, I will carry the Creator’s creation with me always.

I do not tell you this story so to bore you with this particular day in my life. I tell you this story because I trust as fellow pilgrims you too have experienced such struggles. So questions come…What are you holding onto? What is binding you? What conversation with God is waiting at your door? How is your listening? What is distracting you?

The good news is that at the end of the day, God’s continually pursues conversation with us…helping the unexpected become expected…always inviting us to wholeness.





Inside the Storm

21 03 2011

After hearing the forecast, my anxiety subsided a bit as I anticipated the evening drive to McHenry, Maryland and our annual Youth Ski Retreat – just scattered snow showers in the higher elevations. However, just past Cumberland, Maryland, we hit one of those higher elevation snow showers…a sustained snow shower…a sustained snow shower in the dark. The wind blew snow across unfamiliar roads, leaving just one lane visible on West-bound I-68. The snow was relentless and the white crystals that normally falls soft and quiet, seemed angry this night. After several “heart-in-my-throat” moments, the exit toward Wisp Ski Resort was in sight. As I slowed to turn onto the exit, my grip loosened from the indentations I had created and my knuckles regained their natural color. The slowing also revealed what my anxiety and fear had kept me from observing – the interstate speed I maintained fed the perception of an angry storm. With the slowing, the snow blew across the road gentler…softer – the knot in my stomach loosened. My body began to relax. But the adventure wasn’t over.

The lights of Wisp’s Ski slopes illuminated like white brush strokes on the mountainside. Passing the main lodge, I knew we had just one more hill to climb. (I soon was reminded that we were in the mountains of Maryland.) With an adult, five teenagers, and our luggage, our van began the ascent…up the “hill”. Even with gearing down, my wheels could not maintain traction and we slowed to a stop…half way up “the mountain”. A kind person, on their way down, stopped and asked if I needed help. Inside I was saying, “You have no idea,” but out of my mouth came a prideful, “We’re okay.” Thankfully, God is good…looking beyond my pride to the care of my precious teenage cargo, somehow the van wheels found a patch of clear pavement and soon we found ourselves unloading our van at our weekend home.

Our house over looked Deep Creek Lake. From past retreats, I remembered the spectacular views and the sunrise show through the huge living room windows. It was this vista and show I anticipated as I arose before dawn. With camera on my tripod and pre-dawn excitement, I gazed out the window…gray haze instead of fire lit morning skies. With snow still blowing, even the lake below was obscured. Snow and haze had settled in for the weekend. It was not until we had said goodbye to our retreat house for another year that the sun made an appearance.

It’s peculiar – a gift – what awakens us to God’s voice. As we headed down the mountain, snow-blanketed creation was bathed in brilliant sunlight…beautiful! From the back seat of the van, I heard the voice of God – actually it was one of our youth, but the Spirit’s vibrations were in the words that were spoken: “The snow is so great. One flake landed on my hand yesterday and I could see its design. It wasn’t perfect but I could see its pattern. It’s amazing that each snowflake is different.”  She paused, “Look at all the snow on the ground. That’s pretty awesome of God.”

A flash of truth hit me. There I was, in the storm – raging snow, darkness, limited vision, steep mountains, obscured vistas, fear, and anxiety. And now, when I am leaving, my eyes were opened to see the beauty of what happened in the storm. Perfect flakes lying together with imperfect flakes…beautiful – covering the ground, the trees, the rocks…and now blanketing my own soul.

We all experience storms – in relationships, in faith, in health, in finances, in life experiences. What’s so hard about being in the midst of the storm – the wind blowing, snow whirling, darkness closing, limited vision, huge mountains – is that it’s hard to see beyond the immediate. We believe if we go faster we can get through the storm sooner or escape it altogether. Too often, as we move faster, we find the storm rages even harder against us. We forget that slowing down my help us see clearer. We forget that we can say “yes” to help that presents itself. Unfamiliar paths and situations make us uncomfortable so we try to tighten our control on life. We become more rigid and our senses develop tunnel vision; disappointments born from unmet expectations blind us from the growth occurring within the haze we find ourselves.

The good news is we are not alone in the storms of life. God promises to never leave us…in the haze…in the darkness…even when we can’t see God because of the storm.