The Touch of Others
We are all probably a little more conscious of germs these days. I am especially careful if I have to go out into a store, something that I avoid often because I am not naturally careful. This week, I had to go into a pet store to buy my daughter's lizard's food and witnessed everyone doing the right things, almost. Folks were wearing masks and standing six feet apart. But then, I witnessed the woman in front of me in the check-out line pick up a bottle that was displayed there. She read it and put back down. We've all done it a million times. But I guess that's the problem, isn't it? We leave a little of ourselves on everything we touch.
That can be dangerous when it comes to COVID-19, but it holds promise when it comes to how we "touch" one another's lives. As we think of the ways we come in contact with one another, we should more carefully think about what we leave behind. Have our interactions built people up or torn them down?
The scripture demands it of us, "So continue encouraging each other and building each other up, just like you are doing already" 1 Thessalonians 5:11 (CEB). Right now, that human touch shouldn't be literal, but there are many ways we can continue to impact one another in positive ways.
Consider phoning a friend to let them know you are thinking of them, paying a compliment to someone you interact with while making purchases, sending a card to a shut-in, complimenting people you pass while taking a walk, or writing a letter thanking someone for the impact they've made in your life.
In my home and church county, the stay at home order has been extended by our governor through June 4th. As we approach that time, I'm working on projects I've been putting off even though I ought to have already had the time. Of course, one of those projects is spring cleaning and organizing. Anybody need a half broken juicer, an empty fish tank and a used drum case?
We find it natural, if a bit tiring, to do so with our belongings. But what about our time? As we approach the time that things will get back to "normal", I'd encourage us to take special care about what we stuff back into our schedule, and to find those things that had been squeezed out of it previously and put them into our schedule first.
Henry David Thoreau wrote, "In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness." Much of the Bible, too, is about sorting through our lives and weeding out what is unnecessary while wholly embracing those deep necessities of spirit that the world often deems unimportant. Let's take care to do so at home while we're stuck there and with our time and attention as the world opens up to us.
Scrabble and Jesus
We've been playing scrabble at my house. It can get ugly. My husband beat us badly with some crazy words last night. We were, however, being a little loosy goosy with the rules, allowing folks to look up whether what they THOUGHT was a word was actually a word. I learned A LOT of new words last night, a couple of my favorites:
ro: an artificial language intended to be international that rejects all existing words and roots and is based on analysis and classification of ideas
dox: to publicly identify or publish private information about (someone) especially as a form of punishment or revenge
I love new words (even if I've been beaten badly by them) because language is a powerful tool, and I'm always looking for just the right one. Have you ever been stuck for a word? I find that folks feel that way often in prayer. But the scripture tells us not to worry about that.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. Romans 8:26
Even though, we know we only need let the Spirit intervene, there seems to be something cathartic about finding just the right word. I'd encourage you, occasionally as part of your spiritual disciplines to read through some prayers. I've been reading E. Lee Phillips' "Prayers for Worship" and "My Heart in My Mouth; Prayers for Our Lives" by Ted Loder. Email me your favorites to share!
Craft as Creation
“In the nineteenth century, knitting was prescribed to women as a cure for nervousness and hysteria. Many new knitters find this sort of hard to believe because, until you get good at it, knitting seems to cause those ailments. The twitch above my right eye will disappear with knitting practice.”
―Stephanie Pearl-McPhee At Knit's End: Meditations for Women Who Knit Too Much
I love crafts. But I am not what one would call crafty. I mostly try really hard and have fun with not a lot to show for it after. One of the reasons I love to craft is because it allows me to be creative, and creativity is part of who we all are.
You read that right. We all are creative. I know it because I've read my Bible. Genesis 1:27 tells us, "So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them." Our God is a creator, making the world from nothing at all. And if we are created in God's image, then we are creators as well.
That is part of our nature that needs to be nurtured to feel healthy and whole. But creating isn't for the faint of heart. That is why Stephanie Pearl-McPhee's comments on knitting resonated with me. Art, craft, and music are so good for us, but they are so very challenging and frustrating as we learn and grow in them.
And yet, maybe that's why they are so good for us. What is more daunting that trusting in a process you don't yet understand? What is more frightening than knowing that your creation will put you in mind of your own imperfection? What is more shaking than activities that put you in connection with the creative power of God?
Yet, what could be more powerfully healing than something that taught you to trust, to be comfortable with your mistakes, connected you with the divine and gave you a nice warm sweater to boot?
No matter what you choose, knitting, crocheting, cooking and baking, drawing or coloring, painting or sculpting, writing or playing music, dancing, create for and with your creator.
Lamenting in the time of Pandemic
“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.” James Baldwin
I've been tearing through books during our time in quarantine. Books are the ultimate multi-tool. Books are a distraction, a time travel portal, a portrait of beauty and impossibility, and what better way to see the world when you can't leave home?
I was thankful to read James Baldwin adding one more gift of books to mind. When I read, I know I am not alone. I haven't invented any of my suffering, someone else long ago already discovered this desert land. There is great comfort in that, as well as great wisdom to be found in how to handle our struggles.
The Bible is especially good at the art of lament. Despite how often there is hope and joy in the scripture, there are also many and varied passages full of the pain and grief we are all carrying right now. For example, Lamentations 1:4...
The roads to Zion mourn,
for no one comes to the festivals;
all her gates are desolate,
her priests groan;
her young girls grieve,
and her lot is bitter.
When you are feeling especially lonely and tired, I encourage you to go to the word of God. Your pain is not new, nor is it eternal.
“The story is told of Mother Theresa that when an interviewer asked her. "What do you say when you pray?" she answered, "I listen." The reporters paused a moment, then asked, "Then what does God say?" and she replied, "He listens." It is hard to imagine a more succinct way to get at the intimacy of contemplative prayer.”
― Marilyn Chandler McEntyre
If you are able to be at home more during this time of quarantine, it may be tempting to get some projects done around the house. Let's take care not to neglect the projects that build up our foundation. This is the perfect time to dive deeply into spiritual practices that build our relationship with Christ, center us in our deepest values, and fill our spiritual and emotional reservoirs.
One of the essential spiritual disciplines of the Christian faith is contemplative prayer, but there are many others. Spiritual disciplines are faithful practices that help us build up, strengthen, and deepen our faith. Others include, fasting, lectio devina, giving, thanksgiving, serving, worship, confession, sabbath, fellowship, journal keeping, Bible Study, silence.
You can find more about these spiritual disciplines on our "worship at home" page. When we are able to worship again, it will be with more joy, more depth, and will have more ability to transform us and the world if we spend daily time building our intimate relationship with God.
April 09th, 2020
My, my, my, this new normal we're in is a strangely boring struggle, isn't it? How can I have so much time on my hands and yet struggle to get things done? How can so many of my daily stresses have sunk into the background of life, while a deep looming grief and anxiety has taken its place? So many of us are lacking in physical, spiritual, and emotional strength under the weight of worries we don't even realize we have. We need extra motivation when times stretches before us this way, and our power is so in question.
Acts 4:31 ends the story of Peter and John going before the council. They struggle to know how to go forward from that moment, the threat of spreading the gospel now very real to them. And we read these words, "When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness."
We may not be gathered together, but we certainly have the sense that we have been shaken. I pray that God is shaking us at the same time the world is, and I would encourage you that, especially if we commit some time to the Lord each day, we will again be filled with the Holy Spirit. In that way, we can act and speak with boldness the mercy, grace, and, especially this week, the resurrection power of our Mighty God.
If you need some extra inspiration, I'd encourage you to CLICK HERE. Each week, we post some inspiration on social media. If you aren't on Facebook, twitter, or Instagram, maybe you didn't see these. When you click, you will find a slideshow of our social media posts. I pray they are an inspiration and motivation to live and love in boldness.
I am quarantined in a haunted house. I bet you are, too. I use bullet journaling to keep myself organized and as I was going through my notes today, I found ghosts there, ghosts like "Lily's opening night" and "James starts baseball", ghosts like "book study" and "choir practice."
The life gone missing is tangible sometimes, as well as the fear of what we will miss ahead of us. Is Easter fading away in front of our eyes? The echoes of ghastly voices qualify everything now, "IF we go back to school." "IF church camp happens."
Don't get me wrong. There is great joy in this time of slowness and solitude. And I have so much for which to be desperately grateful. Even so, it really is o.k. to mourn our losses, even the ones that are significant only to us. It is o.k. to mourn normalcy, even if not many of your plans have changed. It is o.k. to mourn with and for all of those the world has lost. It is o.k. to mourn our feeling of safety.
If we don't acknowledge our grief, we cannot get past it to find the joy in our current state of life, nor can we accept the comfort that God longs to give us. I find comfort in these words from Isaiah:
"do not fear, for I am with you,
do not be afraid, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my victorious right hand."
I love the imagery of being held in God's hands, not only for the victory I find there, but for the comfort and peace.
Prayer for the Day: O God of comfort and peace, of strength and victory, heal the world, both from the COVID-19 virus and from all of those differences between us that are highlighted in the midst of crisis. Bless those who mourn, and help us to be a blessing from each of our sanctuaries. In Christ's name we pray, Amen.
Beginning our Lenten Journey
I like the imagery of Lent as a journey. It makes sense as we walk with Jesus toward the cross. Lent is a spiritual season of the church during which we prepare for the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. It begins on Ash Wednesday, which was yesterday. Even though we walk toward the same end, our Lenten journeys are very personal. So, below, please find several thoughts on Lent from some important writers. Take what you need. Share what you don't. It might just be the map for someone else's Lenten trip.
“At start of spring I open a trench
In the ground. I put into it
The winter’s accumulation of paper,
Pages I do not want to read
Again, useless words, fragments,
errors. And I put into it
the contents of the outhouse:
light of the suns, growth of the ground,
Finished with one of their journeys.
To the sky, to the wind, then,
and to the faithful trees, I confess
my sins: that I have not been happy
enough, considering my good luck;
have listened to too much noise,
have been inattentive to wonders,
have lusted after praise.
And then upon the gathered refuse,
of mind and body, I close the trench
folding shut again the dark,
the deathless earth. Beneath that seal
the old escapes into the new.”
― Wendell Berry, New Collected Poems
“These special holidays give rise to various liturgical calendars that suggest we should mark our days not only with the cycles of the moon and seasons, but also with occasions to tell our children the stories of our faith community's past so that this past will have a future, and so that our ancient way and its practices will be rediscovered and renewed every year.”
― Brian D. McLaren, Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices
“We suffer these things and they fade form memory. But daily, hourly, to give up our own possessions and especially to subordinate our own impulses and wishes to to others - these are hard, hard things; and I don't think they ever get any easier.
You can strip yourself, you can be stripped, but still you will reach out like an octopus to seek your own comfort, your untroubled time, your ease, your refreshment. It may mean books or music - the gratification of the inner sense - or it may mean food and drink, coffee and cigarettes. The one kind of giving up is no easier than the other.”
― Dorothy Day, The Reckless Way of Love: Notes on Following Jesus
“The cross is not the suffering tied to natural existence, but the suffering tied to being Christians. The cross is never simply a matter of suffering, but a matter of suffering and rejection for the sake of Jesus Christ, not for the sake of some other arbitrary behavior or confession.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I'll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.”
“Never miss a good chance to shut up.”
― Will Rogers
“In the silence of the heart God speaks. If you face God in prayer and silence, God will speak to you. Then you will know that you are nothing. It is only when you realize your nothingness, your emptiness, that God can fill you with Himself. Souls of prayer are souls of great silence.”
― Mother Teresa, In the Heart of the World: Thoughts, Stories and Prayers
“You’re not likely to err by practicing too much of the cross.”
― Alexander Whyte, Bunyan characters in the Pilgrim's progress
“The Lord bestows his blessings there, where he finds the vessels empty.”
― Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ
“I have now concentrated all my prayers into one, and that one prayer is this, that I may die to self, and live wholly to Him.”
― Charles H. Spurgeon
It is my Lent to break my Lent,
To eat when I would fast,
To know when slender strength is spent,
Take shelter from the blast
When I would run with wind and rain,
To sleep when I would watch.
It is my Lent to smile at pain
But not ignore its touch.
It is my Lent to listen well
When I would be alone,
To talk when I would rather dwell
In silence, turn from none
Who call on me, to try to see
That what is truly meant
Is not my choice. If Christ’s I’d be
It’s thus I’ll keep my Lent.
--For Lent, 1966 by Madeleine L’Engle
Thinning the ranks, Building the Body
Serving a small church is a peculiar joy. One of the great things to watch in a small church is the deep, time consuming, abiding commitment of a few faithful folks. It is harder to be committed to a church that is going through a difficult time, especially in the faces of the mega church. There is always somewhere you can go that "has a lot to offer" and "has so much going on", and many of them won't ask much of you. It can feel a little like being Boston Red Sox fan from 1918 until 2004. It can feel thankless.
I was struck by Chuck Swindoll's words, "More than once, Jesus deliberately addressed certain issues that quickly diminished the number of onlookers. It was commitment that thinned the ranks." Commitment isn't easy, it isn't popular, and although it can LEAD to fun, that kind of faithfulness can also be complicated and time consuming.
And yet, of the traits of God, faithfulness is one of the most often mentioned in scripture. Read Psalm 136 and you will read that "his steadfast love endures for ever" 26 times. So, if we are going to respond to God's faithful love, it makes sense that it should be with faithfulness.
So thank you, thank you to all those who continue to be committed to the work God is doing through us at Brightwood Christian Church! For those of you who have felt a little like you want to stay on the sidelines, DON'T! Now's the time to dig in deep, because God has a lot in store!
Rev. Jana Quisenberry is the minister at Brightwood Christian Church. She's an ordained pastor in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). A graduate of Transylvania University in Lexington, KY and Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, IN, She now resides in Mt. Lebanon with her husband, two children, and dog, Sookie. Pastor Jana loves the church, science fiction, and coffee.
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