Reflections on Lent, Day 35

Just because a person becomes a Christian does not mean that they will now be blessed with every good thing and will walk smiling through a life without troubles, wondering why everybody else doesn’t simply adopt their easy plan for love, money, and a life for the most part free from pain.  I know that this caricature of life as a Christian is pure bull caca, and it continues to amaze me that it is preached by some and accepted by great crowds of the gullible to this day.  Jesus and ten of the first eleven disciples (Judas excluded), seemed to miss out on the health and wealth aspect of this strange description of Christ’s mission on earth, so why on earth would anyone think that such a vision would work for a true Christ follower today?

This topic of pain and trouble has been dealt with already by writers and thinkers far sharper than Yours Truly.  Harold Kushner wrote “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” in 1978, and Rabbi Kushner did a wonderful job of explaining this topic.  I will not summarize that book here, but I encourage anyone wrestling with this issue to give it a read.   This is only a Lent reflection however, and not a book review.

During this Lent period I have been trying to focus more sharply on God and my walk with Him/Her (at ease now;  I’m not trying to be unnecessarily incendiary here.  I just believe that trying to apply gender roles and limitations to God is a fool’s errand).  At the outset of the Lent season I naively expected a significant spike in the quality of my prayer life, a quiet confidence that God was in control of the wildness and confusing randomness of my health, work and family life, and that maybe I would hit on the lottery.  As it has turned out, this has been one of the most trying months-and-change that I have had in a while, and if you consider that my last year included a heart attack and bypass surgery, that’s saying quite a lot.

I won’t go into all of the details of the trials which I have endured during this Lent season, and I also won’t try to say that I have not also experienced great spiritual successes and blessings too.  The point of this reflection is that we all, Christian and non-Christian alike, live in a bent and broken world, and that becoming a follower of Christ does not remove a person from that world.  All of the pain and wrongness which afflict the atheist or the Hindu or the Muslim or the Capitalist or the Vegan afflict the Christian too.  I don’t know why that is so, but I do know for a fact that it IS so, and nobody will gain anything by denying that fact, except perhaps silver-tongued preachers who prey upon the fear and greed and weakness of those who listen to them.  I am not judging anybody here (that would be way above my pay grade!), but I am not overly confident of those “preachers'” odds for a good outcome when the judgement day arrives.  I hope for the best, but I’ve got some doubts there.

With all of this in mind, it is probably reasonable to ask why it is a good idea to become a Christian in the first place.  I miss out on the sex and drugs and rock ‘n roll, I don’t get to make fun of people who are different than me, and I don’t get to cheat on my taxes with a clear conscience if I buy into this Christian thing, and in return I get  –  What?  Maybe I’ll go to heaven if I get the luck of the draw (if Calvin’s caricature is right), or maybe I get a crutch to prop my weak ass through the life that everybody else seems to be living just fine (NB: they aren’t!) .  Maybe I’ll just get the prestige of being the adherent to a barely tolerated subgroup in American society and earn the right to get a shellacking in the next election if I decide to run for president.

No, any benefit received by following the crucified Christ is not likely to be monetary, political or positional in society.  So what is it”  I have learned this Lent season that God is, as David Benner writes in “Surrender to Love”, madly in love with us.  Jesus does not stand between us and the shit that the world, the flesh and the devil throw at us.  Instead, He stands beside us, getting covered up in that shit the same as we are.  I count it a privilege to be covered in the same shit that the broken world threw on my God, and when He/She cleans me off some day I hope that He/she will clean off the world that was throwing it as well, and that all of us who will accept God’s grace will dine – no, dine isn’t the right word – will PARTY together, while those who chose to reject Christ to the end will nurse their grudges and drink their bitter cup in an outer darkness of their own choosing, in a prison or tomb locked from the inside.

So yeah, life can be a bitch.  So what?  That’s not news.  Put your tough pants on.  Life is also a gift, and while you can’t always dial up the life you want, you can always draw on His/Her power to make it reflect a little bit of Christ back into the world.  For me, that is enough.

Reflections On Lent, Day 26

Today I enjoyed what was probably the best church service that I have ever had the excessively good fortune to attend, and I have attended many very good ones.  Of course, there were other very good services conducted nearby and elsewhere but I simply did not attend them.  No matter.  I have been a committed Christian for over thirty years now and have been blessed by truly wonderful services at a number of churches.  This is not about any sort of competition, and there is no material prize.  I am only saying that I was blessed by today’s service at House of Providence in ways that I have never been blessed before.

What particularly was so special about today’s service?  Particularly, there was nothing special about it.  The music/worship was wonderful, but then it usually is.  The sermon went straight to the point and spoke to where I am right now, but then then it usually does.  The people, the prayer, the Prayers of the People; all of it was as good as usual.  But for me, today, all of these strands were blended together into a whole that salved my wounds and nourished my soul in ways that don’t happen just every day.

I was greatly moved by the focus on Jesus’ last moments of life.  While hanging on a Roman cross, His life draining out of Him, Jesus looked down at John and Mary, His mother.  In paraphrase Jesus said “Mom, John is your son now,” and then He said “John, take care of Mom for me.”  Now that’s not what ancient gods usually said and did.  The Sumerian goddess Ishtar sends a bull from heaven to trash the Earth because the heroic Gilgamesh, king of Ur, doesn’t want to go to bed with her.  The king seems to prefer the company of Enkidu, a wild man also created by the gods to harass Gilgamesh but with whom he becomes best buddies.  It’s weird, but I ain’t judging.

In Greek mythology/theology Zeus and his cohorts are busy having sex with mortals and pouting when things don’t go exactly their way, causing shipwrecks and losses in battle and turning sex partners into cows to avoid the ire of jealous god or goddess spouses.  Other theologies were less comical.  Aztec priests, when dedicating a pyramid at the imperial capital of Tenochtitlan, conducted between 10,000 and 80,000 human sacrifices in only four days.  Work out the math on that one.  And I will not disturb you with the details of Aztec human sacrifice, but it wasn’t pretty.

Jesus’ thoughts at this moment were not on bulls, or sex, or sex with bulls, or bloody sacrifice, apart from His own that is.  He was thinking about His mother.  Jesus knew that John was the only disciple who would live a long life and die a natural death.  He could have entrusted his mom to Peter, Mark, Matthew or, worst case scenario, to Stephen.  He didn’t.  “Mom, stay close to John (he’s going to be around for a while).  John, treat her like your own mother.”  Other religious views show superhuman gods with very human failings, which are amplified as only a god could amplify them.  Jesus on the cross shows the victorious God who defeats hell and death but also shows human tenderness and love for his mother, even over his own immediate problem.  That is a God that I can put my faith in.

Jesus also said that He was thirsty and that it is finished.  No doubt He was thirsty!  Blood had poured from his shredded back and He would have had no fluids since the night before.  But His thirst is nothing like our own.  Jesus was given sour wine to drink, but we need the water which flows from Him, and He gives it.  It is awful that Jesus had to hang thirstily from that cross so that My dry soul could be spiritually rehydrated, but I give Him thanks that He did it for me, and for everyone else who will drink.

And finally He said “It is finished”.  What is finished”  Death and hell appear to be all around us still.  ISIS tortures, rapes and kills in Syria and Iraq with impunity.  Disease rampages through Africa and poverty dogs much of the world.  If Jesus came here to make things right it certainly doesn’t look on the face of it like it’s working.  What exactly did Jesus finish?

In a word, eternal, spiritual death.  Sin and hell are no longer in the driver’s seat.  As bad as it looks, it’s getting better.  Heaven and Earth are being reconciled and there’s nothing that the devil and all of his forces can do about it.  God’s kingdom on Earth is inevitable; it is coming and will be established, and sin will be cast outside the walls of the Kingdom of God to grind it’s teeth like the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son, certain of his self earned righteousness and unwilling to allow Gods grace to heal him of his self inflicted wound.

Yeah, it was a service that I needed today.  I will go to bed tonight still thinking about it, and hopefully it will remain with me as I pick up my busy workaday life tomorrow and get into the mix once again.

Reflections On Lent, Day 17

There was not much reflecting on Lent going on in my mind on day 17, just like there wasn’t much on day 16.  “Not surprising” I thought to myself.  “I’m really busy today, with a full schedule at work that is going to take some creative jiggering of employees to get everything done with the least possible inconvenience to everyone involved”.  The day did work out well, but required nearly all of my thought, allowing little time to ponder spiritual things.

And when I did remember that we are in the midst of Lent and try to put things into a spiritual perspective, my mind was quickly filled with thoughts of the health issues of my granddaughter and the pain and fear that my daughter and her husband are experiencing.  When I get those thoughts put to rest I remember the tangled process of getting my car fixed.  I was rear-ended several weeks ago and the process of getting my car repaired is frustrating to say the least.  And then there are the handful of other issues which divert my mind or simply weigh it down, so that there is very little time devoted to thinking about God.

Then it hit me as I was forming beds around some shrubs in my front yard: there might be somebody who doesn’t want me to be thinking about spiritual things.  There just might be a personality which is very steadily working to keep my mind focused on things other than God and my relationship to Him.

Who would want to do a thing like that?  Uh, the devil maybe?  But what does the devil care about me?  He is only a created being, far from omni-anything.  I’m certain that the hideous depredations of Boko Haram, ISIS, the awfulness that is North Korea, the war in eastern Ukraine and the culture of rape in India, Congo, and elsewhere are much more likely to whet the palate of Old Scratch than my puny self.  It doesn’t make sense that he would waste his infernal time trying to turn my attention away from God.

Perhaps that’s what “junior tempters” such as were described in C. S. Lewis’ “Screwtape Letters” are up to.  I can easily see some junior tempter, ‘Drizzleschmertz’ we’ll call her, employing all of the skills that she learned at the Boarspittle Demonic Academy in an effort to win favor from her overseer, Schnodsmutl, who will eat her soul if she does not deliver my own to whet his appetite.  I am nobody in particular except for being a beloved child of the Living God, so they would not invest much into capturing me.  Bigger guns for bigger prey.

And then there are the two books by Frank Peretti, “This Present Darkness” and “Piercing The Darkness”.  Those two books are not very much in favor now because we’ve all become too cool to believe that our liberal social institutions might be demonically directed.  If Peretti were to write a similar book in which conservative individuals and institutions were the ones influenced and even directed by demons, and in many instances he could probably make a coherent case for such a theme, his books would probably once again be on the best seller list.  The politics of the thing mean nothing to me.  Peretti painted a vivid picture of spiritual warfare that in my opinion still has something valid to say to the world about the unseen component to many of the awful things that we see today.  I have no problem with the idea of a scaly, beaked demon with sharp claws tugging at tufts of wiry bristles growing out of its jowled, slobbering face whispering distractions into my ear as I try to focus on God.

Do I believe anything like this is happening to me?  Yes, no, I don’t know, maybe.  I can’t see the supernatural, so how can I speculate on what it looks like and what it’s doing?  Do I believe that such a picture is impossible?  No, I do not believe such a thing.  Do I believe that such a thing is happening to me today?  Again, maybe.  I can’t rule it in and I an’t rule it out.

So maybe I’ll just assume that I am a prize in some supernatural struggle and force myself to choose a side.  Of course, I choose God’s side.  And how will I do that?  Bend my mind toward good things and try to be aware of what’s happening around me.  Love God and Love my neighbor. No, not just formula; really do it.  Even if the turd neighbor who annoys the snot out of me is impossible to love.  Love him/her anyway and keep my eyes, ears and mind open.  No telling what I might learn.

Reflections On Lent, Day 15

Today’s reflections on Lent is that I did not reflect very much on Lent.  Today was very much like all of the other days this year that I have gotten up, gone to work, come home and pittled away the rest of the evening without thinking too much about God.  It could have been lingering effects of the stress that I have been under with a sick granddaughter, or a day of juggling my time trying to keep the patients moving and not having to wait too long for their tests while trying to cover multiple sites with a bare minimum of employees.  With any luck some anticipated new employees will soon alleviate this burden, but for now I must carry it daily.

At any rate, when I arrived home from work an hour and a half after I normally do I had almost no energy left.  A nap, I reasoned, would be sufficient to rejuvenate me and enable me to attend our church’s weekly Home Community meeting at some friends’ house, and it probably would have been except that I didn’t wake up until well after the group would have come together and begun their meeting.  I regret missing Home Community.  I really do enjoy getting together with those good people, eating wonderful dinners and talking about God.  It’s one of the highlights of my week.  It just didn’t happen this week and contributed to the general flatness that I feel tonight.

I wonder if Jesus ever felt this kind of flatness.  Probably not.  He was God after all, and probably had enough irons in the fire to keep his spiritual edge keen and ready for work.  But Jesus was also human too.  One hundred percent human.  Isn’t it at least conceivable that Jesus was subject to the same impulses, or lack of impulses, and frailties that have plagued the rest of us mortals as we walked our sometimes dreary paths on this earth?  I don’t really know the answer to that, but I think that it’s at least worth pondering.

About the other saints I have no doubt.  Paul, with his thorn in the flesh, most certainly had times when he was simply thinking “I wish I could get that damned thorn out”, and the Ephesians or Romans or whoever just had to wait another day to get their church founded or receive that letter that they were waiting for.  And Martin Luther, when he was not wrestling with a Pope who could easily have him burned at the stake, spent hours squatting on the can and wrestling with painful and persistent constipation.  I wonder which situation Mr. Luther thought was the worse?  I have little doubt however that, between working out his 95 Theses and writing his Three Treatises Mr. Luther spent at least a little of his time wishing that he could just drop that log and get off of the pot, where his legs had long since gone numb while sitting there and waiting for something good to happen.

And on it goes, I assume, for the rest of struggling humanity.  Some days you are founding churches and writing theses and some days you just want relief from a nagging pain or to be able to take a dump.  Today has been one of those latter days for me.  It seemed sufficient to slog through a day’s work and wake up from a nap in time to eat dinner, write a thoroughly non-spiritual reflection on the fifteenth day of Lent and then get ready to go to bed.

So there it is.  I hope that you, reader, had a more Spirit-attuned day today than I did, and I hope that the Spirit floods me with thoughts and observations tomorrow.  For today, I can report that I made it through to the end with no particular spiritual insights given me over the course of the day.  I suppose it is possible that I’m in good company,

Reflections On Lent, Day 14

Thirteen is indeed a nasty number.  As I wrote yesterday, many people consider that number to be very unlucky.  I am now one who can be counted among their numbers.  I can write this for two reasons:  First, because this is my blog and I can write anything that I want, and secondly because today was a very great improvement over yesterday.  Yesterday I had a sick granddaughter with frightening symptoms and no diagnosis, a challenging day at work where I was exhausted from lack of sleep and distracted by worry, and was facing an eye test to evaluate some weird visual disturbances that I was having.  This does not make for a party sort of emotional state.

Today we apparently have a diagnosis, which can lead to a treatment.  I got a decent night’s sleep last night (utter exhaustion!) which helps everything, and the eye exam showed no evidence of detached retina, which was the result that I feared most.  So it would be very much in my nature to mutter a desultory prayer of thanks and relief, pour another glass of wine, and return to schlepping my way through life in my traditional pollyanna style.  OK, I’m not that shallow.  Not quite.  But you get the picture.  I live for the groove.  I like the Ansel Adams photo of “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico” hanging on my wall over the worn rocking chair that i bought upon the birth of my daughter 36 years ago and want both to stay exactly where they are for another 36 years.  That doesn’t mean that I’m a stick in the mud.  My friends will tell you that I am quite the opposite.  Still, I have a lifestyle, a pattern of behavior that is my comfort zone.  That comfort zone softens the blows of life for me and, so to speak, sedates me against the pain of life.  It is this rhythm of life that I gravitate back to after the storm subsides, and this rhythm does not include pondering the power and efficacy of prayer.  I only do that when waves are smashing in my windows and washing the soil out from under my foundation.

This is Lent however, the fourteenth day of Lent as a matter of fact, and I have tasked myself, and also feel that I have been tasked by God, to ponder the power and efficacy of prayer when the waves subside, the windows are replaced and the foundation shored up.  So I ask myself now: Was my prayer answered?  I prayed for the life and health of a beloved granddaughter yesterday and today we have great hope that a treatment can be drafted and put into effect, and that a beautiful young life will continue to bless her family until long after I am gone.  Is that an answered prayer?

I don’t know the answer to that question.  Nobody could possibly know the answer to that question.  Could this be purely physical?  Medical science applied to perplexing symptoms with the difficult but ultimately predictable outcome that I have described above?  Yeah, I suppose that could be true.  I suppose it is possible that I believe that some God answered my prayer only because I want to believe that, rather than believe that we are ultimately adrift in a random universe where the only gods are time and chance.  To be honest, if I did believe that I lived in such a universe I probably really would create a god to believe in and wouldn’t blame anybody else if they did so as well.

But I do not have to resort to that.  I worship a God who exists, who walked the earth, who preached, healed, performed miracles, was murdered but rose up out of the grave and appeared to multiple hundreds of people after the Romans had done their worst.  And Romans were very good at building roads and aqueducts, creating a legal system, and killing people.  I’m pretty sure that they killed Jesus good and dead.  This God said that I should pray when I am distressed (among other times) and He will answer me.  I prayed, and He answered.  I am sure that’s how the deal went down.

Of course, there’s still Boko Haram, North Korea, ISIS, repression of Muslims in Myanmar, the raping and killing of women in India and a host of other things that I pray about that have not been answered.  What about that?  The answer if I am hearing God clearly, is that the people of God were in Babylon for 70 years, the Hebrews were in Egypt 400 years, and Jesus has not returned in two thousand years.  Things take time, and God’s timetable is very different from my own.  That’s cool.  I’m OK with that.  God may take a little bit longer to clean up those other messes, but over the last 24 hours He seems to have taken one load off of my shoulders.  Tonight I will pray just as fervently a prayer of thanks as I prayed in supplication last night.  Why?  Because I have faith.

Reflections On Lent, Day 13

Thirteen.  An unlucky number, some people say.  I wonder where they got that from.  Why is thirteen supposed to be a worse number than twelve or fourteen?  And it’s not just the ignorant and superstitious who fall prey to the dread of that number.  Have you ever stayed in a hotel room or hospital room numbered thirteen?  Or even been on a thirteenth floor of a high rise building?  I’d be willing to wager that you have not.  It’s a very curious matter and I would be inclined to dismiss the whole thing as fairy tale hocus-pocus, and I am still open to that possibility that such is the case, except that this thirteenth day of Lent finds me very much on a downer.

My granddaughter is sick, and nobody quite knows what is going on.  The helplessness that I feel watching this process play out is infinitely worse than the helplessness that I felt while awaiting an operation for three clogged arteries on the back of my heart.  In that case I knew what the problem was, even if I had no idea why I had the problem in the first place, and what would be required to fix it.  In the present situation I can only wait to hear about test results and pray that God will intervene and secure a complete healing, and pray is exactly what I have been doing along with a whole lot of other people.

But why is it that this still leaves me nervous, unable to sleep well at night and distracted at work?  Prayer changes things, right?  Well, maybe it does and maybe it doesn’t.  The two hundred Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by the nutbag group Boko Haram have not been released, and I have prayed for that.  And what about North Korea?  I’ve prayed that the suffering people of that country would be given relief from rule by a family of madmen, and millions of Korean Christians have prayed the same prayer as well, and for many years.  Nothing yet!  Let’s face it:  praying for something does not mean that what you or I want to see happen will happen.  God, it seems, has His reasons why one prayer appears to be answered in the positive and another prayer does not.

This situation then inevitably leads to the pain of doubt, in my case at least.  Why don’t the suffering minorities under the bloody thumb of ISIS get relief when I and millions of other Christians pray for it?  Is God not listening, or doesn’t God care?  I do not and can not believe that this is the case.  There is too much evidence to the contrary for me to believe for a minute that God is on an extended coffee break and cannot be bothered with insignificant affairs down here.  Any God who takes a vacation would not be much of a God at all.

I believe that God cares.  God hears my prayers and the prayers of everyone in this particular situation, and if I could only see the problem from God’s eternal perspective it would all make sense.  I believe that God will answer our prayers too.  I cannot see the answer now but I will, just as I will someday see the answer to all of those prayers about the Nigerian girls, North Korea and ISIS.  When I finally see those issues in their entirety it will all make sense, and so will the globally small but personally huge issue of one sick little girl in a corner of the United States of America.

In the meantime I must lean on faith.  I believe with all of my heart that God hears our cries and is working in His own perfect way to bring things to a conclusion that we – I – will see, from that eternal perspective to be, in fact, perfect.  It gnaws at my heart that I do not see God acting as I would have Him act, but maybe that is for my own good.  A god who acts as I direct when I whistle him up with a nicely constructed incantation wouldn’t be much of a god either.

God is good.  God hears.  God cares.  God will act and in fact is acting.  This I know because God told me so and I believe it to be true.  I have faith that it it true.  That must, for the moment, be enough.

Reflection On Lent, Day 12

Day number 12 of my Lent reflections.  You’d think that I would run out of things to reflect on.  I certainly would think so!  I mean, how complicated are our lives that we can come up with something new of a spiritual nature every day?  Of course pastors and theologians can do such things at the drop of a hat, but that comes as no surprise; that’s their job and they trained for it and get paid to do it (sometimes too much but usually not enough).  I’m not a pastor and I am definitely not a theologian, so it is most unlikely that these reflections come entirely from me.

That leaves us with the conclusion that they come at least in part from somewhere else.  Now, my wife is not feeding me these topics and themes and neither are my son, my daughter, my brother, nor any other living material being on this planet.  That narrows it down even more to a supernatural source for these many thoughts, and there are only two choices which can be made as to which side of the cosmic supernatural war might be feeding me the ideas that I write about which are wrapped up in my own real personal experiences and written out of my own perceptions of reality.  I will let you, reader, decide from whence my inspiration arises.

Today I write about a mixed bag sort of day.  Have you ever had one of those?  Part of the day causes you to walk on air while the other part has you grinding down the street wearing iron boots.  You feel divided; guilty if you are reveling in the joy that one part of your day is giving you and guilty if you are wallowing in your downer when you have so much to feel good about.  I’m not at all certain how to proceed, so I will just let the Holy Spirit guide me if S/He will, and share my struggle a little bit with you all today.

On the downer side, I have an illness in my extended family.  I will be vague about this because that is my nature and training.  I work in the health care business and we live and die by a code of discretion and caution concerning other people’s medical issues, and even though the family members most closely connected to the party in difficulty are not at all reticent to talk about it, I am.  So you’ll have to take my word for it that I’m worried.  This has been a cloud over my head since I woke up this morning, and it’s been hard to not think about it.

And then there is the day that God has given us today!  The sun is out and I am sitting in a chair with my feet propped up on the hood of my truck in the sunshine.  I pulled a gob of weeds today and I love little more than getting my fingers into the dirt.  I’m even wearing shorts, although that’s causing a strain on the relationship with my neighbors.  They’re all wearing shades to prevent blindness from the sunlight reflecting off of my white, knobby legs!  On days like this I can hardly let anything get me down, and all of this is what feeds my problem.  Am I dissing God by allowing myself to be down on such a day?  Am I dissing my family to be sitting comfortable and warm in flood of sunshine that really shouldn’t be here for one, two, or even three more months?

Trying to work my way through this I am reminded of a story that I once read, I remember not where.  A very saintly woman – we’ll call her “Agnes” because that name sounds so very spiritual – who was known for her spirituality and relationship with God, and especially for her prowess as a prayer warrior for the cause of God, was traveling through the countryside one day and stopped at a monastery along the way where she hoped to find a bed and a meal.  The Grand Poobah of the monastery invited her in with a flourish of hospitality, and threw a great feast to welcome her.  The meal consisted of bread, cheeses, beer and partridges, and Sister Agnes wasted no time tearing into the food and drink with unreserved gusto.  As she began to slam down her fourth bird the Grand Poobah became concerned and gently chided her on her appetite.  “Sister Agnes,” he said, “don’t you think that you should slow down for appearances’ sake?  This could tarnish your fine reputation as a moderate woman of God”.  The Sister lowered the bird for a moment and replied:  “Brother Poobah.  When it’s time to pray, pray.  But when it’s time to partridge, partridge.”

Well, I think God’s telling me something like that today.  When it’s time to engage my family and support them in their difficulty, pray and support.  But when it’s time to sit in the sun or run my fingers through the moist, warm dirt, sit and run my fingers and be thankful for the opportunity.

So that’s what I’ll do.  Pray a prayer of petition and also one of thanks.  God can multitask.  He can chew gum and walk.  He can handle it all just fine.  So I’ll quit cluttering up my life trying to find the ‘right’ response to every situation and just enjoy God’s blessing when everything’s fine and lean into Him when the storms hit.  Thanks God.

Reflections On Lent, Day 11

No, you didn’t miss something.  I did not post a Reflection on day 10.  Some days are so full that you cannot squeeze one more thing into it.  Yesterday was one of those.  Today I was able to get to the task, and here goes:

The sun broke over the eastern horizon with an almost summertime brilliance today.  I know this because even though it was a Saturday morning I was awake at my usual 5 AM.  I could not go back to sleep and so tried my favorite method for catching a few more winks.  I stretched out on the living room sofa and plugged in an old black and white science fiction movie from the 1950’s, closed my eyes and tried to imagine the scenes from the dialogue.  This is a strategy that works nearly all of the time.

No dice today, so I gave up at about seven and began to read Joshua Ryan Butler’s “Skeletons In God’s Closet”.  By nine I was finished, my wife was stirring, and it was clearly time for some kitchen action.  Soon we were feasting on bacon, potatoes andchard, and eggs for me, and as we ate I could only stare out of the window at the deep blue sky and sparkling sunlight that washed the landscape that spread out before us.  I knew that this was a day to be outside, and after cleaning up I put on my gardening shoes and grabbed my shovel, hoe, foam kneeling pad and an old Craftsman screwdriver with the business end rounded off into an oval shape by the decades that I have used it exclusively as a weeding tool.

Soon I was kneeling in one of my raised beds pulling weeds.  The soil is wet and loose, and the roots came up with relative ease in most cases.  In other cases I had to work just a little bit harder.  In no time at all I had a rhythm going and the weeds were literally flying into and old trash can that I have kept for just that purpose.

While I was thusly engaged, face to the dirt and fingers actually in the soil, I remembered the Lent project of spending more purposeful thought and time in the things of God.  My mind had been racing from subject to subject; work and its complexities, plans for the spring, projects which needed to be completed at home, and so on.  Now I tried to corral my mind and focus it on God and His ways, and it was not easy.

I think that if I had been born in these times I would have been saddled with the diagnosis of ADD.  I have always had a struggle concentrating on one thing only for any length of time, and today was no exception.  Eventually however I did manage to get my thoughts flying in formation, and this is what I think God told me today.

The dirt the earth, for me, is a reset button.  As the screwdriver blade rooted out tenacious weeds and as the shovel head bit deep into the wet soil I was reminded that the soil is what God made my ancestor Adam out of and soil is what we all will eventually return to, except for Jesus, Enoch, Elijah and V.I. Lenin.  I am not at all sure how they keep that latter guy looking so fresh; seems like some sort of dark art to me.

Anyway, all of the rest of us have dirt in our futures, and as I worked in that dirt today, especially with an eye to coaxing vegetables out of it that would cost me a pretty penny at Whole Foods, I reflected on how God has given us the tools and now we just have to squeeze our sustenance out of the soil.  Even more than that, I felt a weird sort of kinship with the soil.  Yeah, I know:  “Tree Hugger Gone Wild”.  It’s not like that.  I don’t think of that dirt clod as my cousin.  I cannot help but reflect though that we we share the same creator, and that my loving work with the soil will be responded to by an outpouring of sweet, healthy organic and cheap vegetables which will nourish my body as well as my soul.  This is a blessing indeed.

What also struck me was the permanence and stability of the soil.  I have had that dirt back there for at least fifteen years.  I know that dirt well because I carried all twenty cubic yards or so of it back there one wheelbarrow load at a time.  A walking path is the only access that I have to my back yard.  I have no idea where that dirt came from either; it could have come from the Love Canal for all I know or Hanford, which would be more likely.

But every year I return to that soil in the spring and turn under by hand the cover crop that grew over winter and fixed either nitrogen or potassium in its roots, and also turn under the compost that I have been cooking since the previous spring.  Several overpriced bags of compost from Shorty’s Garden Center also find their way into the beds that I prepare for my cold weather crop that I begin my garden with, and then the tomatoes and cucumbers, onions and carrots and green beans that are the crown jewels of my summer and fall dining room table.

I tend this garden the way that God tends me.  I have to have my weeds pulled daily, and some are rooted deep and require a sharp metal point at times to get the job done.  I am good with producing manure.  But God takes that manure, which would burn and kill my soul garden the way that fresh chicken or steer manure would burn my vegetable garden, and he cures it, composts it, and when it is ready He uses it to produce fruit in my own life.  Pests invade my garden and I plant flowers which draw insects that prey on those pests.  In like manner, God plants human flowers in my life which strengthen me to resist the nasty, Screwtapesque pests that would challenge my soul in its relation to the Gardener.

For many it would seem that the garden is a metaphor for my relationship with God, but for me it is deeper than that.  The garden IS my relationship with God in microcosm.  As long as I am able to I will spend the warm – more or less – months of the year out there relating to God in my own way.  I hope and pray that all of you find your own “garden” and allow God to nurture you through it.

Reflections On Lent, Day 9

My Lent reflection for today will be a brief one.  This is necessary because it concerns my work, and I work in the medical profession.  I am on the front lines in the delivery of health care and the privacy rules which surround my line of work are very widespread and very strict.  It is, therefore, the better part of valor to write as little about it as possible.  Still, I believe that I have just enough room to deliver this reflection without stepping on toes or stepping out of line.

I knew that today would be a challenge before I walked through the door. We have been seeing more patients each day lately than we have seen in quite a while, and I knew that one of our swing shift people was taking the day off.  The night shift person had labored mightily to get done what she could but there was still an impressive list of tests to be performed before any of us had picked up a transducer.  Because of a happy innovation in our work schedule however we had an extra person working four hours in the morning, which gave me a much needed opportunity to practice on a new machine that we have recently purchased.

By lunchtime however we knew that our collective goose was cooked.  The printer sounded like a machine gun, so many were the orders for new tests that came rattling through it.  It quickly became obvious that the one swing shift person who would be working this evening was going to be buried with exams needing to be done if I didn’t stay a little bit past my quitting time, and so I opted to do that.  Our student stayed and did another test too, and we thereby managed to get done some of the people who had been waiting the longest for their tests to be finished.

Just as I was wrapping up what I thought was my last test I was told that a patient had been sent over to us to get a test, and if he couldn’t get one as an outpatient he was going to have to go through the Emergency Department.  Happily I was there for two reasons:  First, I saved him from a long slog through the Emergency Department and secondly because he was a young guy and this particular test would have been seriously embarrassing if it would have been done by one of the female techs, and that is all that we usually have at that time of the afternoon.

So the message which came home to me is that when things are hectic and seem to be all on the wrong track, it’s just possible that you are not seeing the whole picture.  In my case a long and difficult day made it possible for a young man who is at an age where embarrassment is likely to be most acute to have his test performed under the least uncomfortable conditions that are possible and also saved the time, expense, and perhaps pain from IV sticks or whatever might have happened in the Emergency Department.

So I end my day tired but contented with the way it is wrapping up.  My goal now is to cook, eat, clean up, pour a glass of wine and get busy preparing to lead a book study this Monday.  I’ll lean on God’s grace to keep me sharp while I do that.

Reflections On Lent, Day 8

I had thoughts of beginning this reflection at six o’clock this morning.  I knew that my work day was going to be very busy and that we would be going to some friends’ house to meet with a group from my church, and that this would account for much of my time for this day.  Additionally, I have to have the rear end of my pick up truck photographed and estimated for the cost of repairs.  I was rear-ended a couple of weeks ago and want to get my truck, which I inherited from my father, back into shape.  I am in fact waiting in the lobby of the auto body shop right now while I am writing this.

And then there is the reading and organization which I must do to prepare to help lead a book study five days from now.  I really do hate putting such things off until the last minute; if I am not prepared you can always tell that I’m winging it!  My next four days are wide open, but I get more and more nervous the longer I put off starting to prepare.  And besides, Saturday and Sunday are supposed to be sunny again and I am getting anxious to plant kale and chard and broccoli and onions.  And then there’s dinner Sunday night with my daughter’s family—.

Time is getting away from me, and I have even given up Facebook as a Lenten fast.  Imagine how crunched for time I would be if I spent as much time as I usually do staring at my glowing rectangle, solving world problems with political friends and keeping up relationships with friends across town and also across the globe.  I’m beginning to believe that I have a time issue.

I love to be busy, but this may be a little bit too much.  My friends may have to get by without me tonight.  They really are friends and not connections on Facebook, so they would forgive me my absence.  And maybe the kale and other veggies could wait for another week to get busy growing in my garden in the back yard.  An evening at home, taking a nap and reading a book about God and thinking deeply about what the author is saying about God could possibly be a better way to spend my time this evening.

Well, best laid plans of mice and men.  I got home this afternoon and took a good nap, and then off we went to our home community meeting. We put together an Italian meal that was delicious and had some of the best together time that we’ve had since, well, last week.  We dug into the strange triangle that was Jesus, Pontius Pilate, and the Jewish authorities. There’s a lot of meat on those bones and we chewed on them with gusto.  My biggest take away from the episode concerns the ‘robber’ named Barabbas.  Pilate does not want to kill Jesus but he doesn’t want a riot on his hands either, so he decides to try to cut a deal.  “OK, you want to kill somebody so bad, you can either kill Barabbas or Jesus.”

Pilate was talking to the same crowd that has been howling for Jesus’ head since sunup, so this Barabbas must have been a very bad dude for Pilate to think for a moment that the Jews were going to go for this stunt. They begin to cry “Give us Barabbas”, and I think that a modern analogy would be to cry out “Give us Manson”, or “Give us Ariel Castro”, or “Give us al-Baghdadi (the murderous nutbag who currently runs the ISIS bunch)”.  It literally seems to me to have been a choice between God and the devil, and the crowd chose the devil.

I’m not going to be too hard on the Jews however.  Wouldn’t I have done the same thing?  Wouldn’t you?  When our cultural foundations are being threatened don’t we push back?  I certainly do.  I’ll assume the robe of self-righteousness on the day that I can go 24 hours together without crucifying Jesus with some sin in thought or deed.

So my Lent reflection is to slow down, do what really is important and not be a slave to what only appears to be urgent, and be watchful so that the next time I get to choose between God and Manson or Pol Pot or Mr. Boko Haram or the devil himself, I will be prepared to shout out “Give me Jesus”.