What Is the Good News?

El_Greco_-_Christ_Healing_the_Blind_-_WGA10420

El Greco, Christ Healing the Blind

Meditation for the Thirteenth Day of Lent

Shake thyself from the dust; arise, and sit down, O Jerusalem. (Isaiah 52:2)

HOPE AND NEW LIFE. Turn away from evil and embrace the Good News.

Christ really has been raised from death—the first one of all those who will be raised. Death comes to people because of what one man did. But now there is resurrection from death because of another man. I mean that in Adam all of us die. And in the same way, in Christ all of us will be made alive again. (I Corinthians 15:20-22)

ETERNAL LIFE. The body dies and decays; the spirit lives on.

I gave you the message that I received. I told you the most important truths: that Christ died for our sins, as the Scriptures say. (I Corinthians 15:3)

FREEDOM. If we had to pay a fine for every unkind thought or angry word, we would all live in a culvert. But, having done the best we can to right our wrongs, we needn’t carry guilt and shame around with us, punishing ourselves for our sins and hating our sinfulness. Indeed, these take a toll on our bodies as well as our hearts and minds. They paralyze our ability to love. In Christ we are given innocence at any time we choose to claim it. In the resurrection we are set free to experience joy, which blesses us and all whom we encounter.

Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” (Matthew 11:4-5)

HEALING. Physicians have told me they see miracles all the time. That the body inclines toward healing is a miracle in itself. The body and mind want to be healthy. Torn skin scars over, and scars fade. Broken lives are mended. Broken relationships are restored. These are laws of nature lived through Christ.

“In the winter, seeing a tree stripped of its leaves, and considering that within a little time, the leaves would be renewed, and after that the flowers and fruit appear, he received a high view of the Providence and Power of God, which has never since been effaced from his soul.” (Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God)

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” (Isaiah 52:7)

VICTORY. God is supreme. Good is greater than evil. If we didn’t believe this in one form or another, we wouldn’t be able to get out of bed. Every minute of every day would be lived in dread of calamity.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33) Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. (Colossians 3:15)

PEACE. Much misery arises when we try to control everything—ourselves, other people, circumstances…. Who, having gained a measure of power, does not seek even greater power? When we realize how little we can truly control, we can lean on the infinite strength of God. Thus are we free to live and love in this moment.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

HAPPINESS. The Spirit brings “mystic sweet communion” with Almighty God. By sowing its seeds, in prayer and meditation, we will harvest well-being in all its spiritual dimensions. Having that, what more can we ask? What else do we need for happiness?

Jesus replied, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

LOVE. We don’t have to wait for love to rush in and sweep us off our feet. You and I can make a decision to walk in the way of love… the love of God, the love of others, and the love that our Sunday-school teachers failed to mention: the love of ourselves. There is nothing noble or generous about neglecting our own needs or being easily manipulated.

Jesus “did not command self-love; he assumed it and made it the measure of neighbor love: ‘As you would that men do to you, do so to them.’” (John Piper, desiringgod.org)

Advertisements

Guide Our Feet

Giotto_di_Bondone_051_Ascension_of_St_John_adjusted

Giotti di Bondone, Ascension of Saint John

Guide our feet, O God, into your heaven
where we find relief from fear and pain.
O, guide us through the wide, sere, blinding desert
into green, new grass, clear pools, warm rain.

Guide our feet, O God, away from death,
for we would dance with you, and so may we
not walk with tentative or fearful tread,
but confident that where we go, you lead.

Guide our feet, O God, for we would spring
from stone to stone, from tree to tree, and lean
upon our faith in you. Then may we fling
our spirits skyward—O God, give us wings.

Guide our feet, O God, into the way
of peace; from dark to light, from night to day.
May others, witnessing our joy, be led
unto your table, there with manna fed.

Amen.

Ring the Christmas Bells

isabella-breviary-adoration-of-magi

Ring the Christmas bells, ring in Emmanuel
today. A child is born in Bethlehem amid the
creatures in the stable. Humble his
surroundings, yet he comes to rule the hearts of
people ‘round the world. Are you afraid?
Give to the holy one your fears. And do you
weep? Give him your tears; he makes of them
your baptism. Return to purity, O children.
Come, oh, come to him.

Ring the Christmas bells, ring in the victory
of joy and peace. A child is born in Bethlehem,
and creatures give him homage. Kings adore
him; precious are the gifts they bring. Now sing
for him a lullaby; sing him to sleep. Sing this:
Sweet Jesus, God among us, Lord Emmanuel.
So innocent is he, yet he accepts our sin and
our distress. Return to bliss, O children.
Come, oh, come to him.

Ring the Christmas bells, ring in the hope of
better days to be. A child is born in Bethlehem,
a world transformed his gift to you and me.
He is the Morning Star; the very sun bows
down to him, and through his tender mercy
what was old and weary now is new again.
Give him your tears, and they become your
baptism. Return to innocence, O children.
Come, oh, come to him.

Prayer for a Wounded Heart

Sir Joshua Reynolds-Colonel Acland and Lord Sydney-The Archers 1769

Sir Joshua Reynolds, Colonel Acland and Lord Sydney: The Archers, 1769

Archer, Hold Your Arrows Now

O God, make soft my wounded heart, which
wants to grow a dragon’s skin so it cannot be
pierced again, a coat of armor to deflect the
daggers and the arrows that with deadly aim
would make it bleed. But I need courage more
than shielding now, to keep my heart exposed…
to open and remodel it. I wish it to become a warm,
inviting heart, O God, one that is friendly, even
welcoming, for there are those it would embrace
and make for them a fragrant garden, sweet and
safe and scented with the rose, the lilac, and the
honeysuckle vine… a place above the grime of city
streets where visitors can climb to find security,
as squirrels sniff the air and scurry to their nests
before a storm. Here is my heart, my precious
ones, I cry to them. Here is protection; here is rest.
Now close your eyes and listen. You will find that
everything there is to know about reality is said
between the steady heartbeats and in whispers
at the pausing of the breath. And I would teach
them that to love is not a risk at all; it is an antidote
for death. Love speaks the language of the soul, of
sunlight, of the nightingale, the hum of summer in the
grass, the old oak groaning in the wind. If love is
stolen from an open heart, there is in heaven an
unlimited supply of it, and innocence as well.

My wounded heart, left to its own devices, would
have long since withered, gone to seed, all but
invisible among the weeds whose thorns make
inhospitable the space around. How could it heal,
this heart inflamed, when barely capable of
pounding blood through arteries and veins?
Created durable enough, it must have maintenance
just like the rest of us, with exercise and fresh air
and a diet rich in love. Admonishment to toughen
up is well regarded, and the heart is, after all, a
muscle not to be neglected, but its nourishment,
the best of it, is heaven-sent. No heart can thrive
on bread alone.

O God, make whole and clean my wounded heart
and sweep away the scales; it needs no armor from
now on. I call to the archer, Hold your arrows. I am
friend and no one’s enemy today. Almighty God,
endow me with endurance and vitality, for I would
serve thee and be happy, as my heart, by nature wise,
by thee restored to purity, advises me.

Amen.

It Is Finished

All that perishes is done, its temporality
expired, its finite span come to an end.
Love dawns, and darkness runs for cover,
scattering to its mysterious retreats,
its caverns damp and chill and inhospitable to all
except the twisted denizens of night. But light
now floods the caves and crevices, and darkness
has no place to hide.

It is finished. Now everything begins, and
what now is, what has begun, is born of love
and cannot die. Remember this, in winters
that descend untimely, blighted by disease
or grief, when pain extinguishes anticipation,
faith is tested and found wanting, hope is lost.
But hopelessness is finished, and despair died
on the cross.

Now everything begins, and we reside
in that eternal morning where the sun
forever rises, lavishing magnificent
abundance on the living—energy for
what we are and what we shall become.

Like seeds dropped carelessly among dry weeds,
for what seemed an eternity we waited, tiny
miracles of life and possibility. We waited
comfortlessly, frozen, numb below the crust
of earth where we’d arrived, not understanding
why or how, borne by which wind or for what
purpose. There we lay, absurdly small and
weak, without the power to exchange our
situation with what we aspired to be—the oak,
the grapevine, even (if we had no other choice)
the common milkweed—anything alive
and free. We waited, with our destinies
obscure, obeying the imperative of life, until
the earth around us warmed and softened,
waking our imaginations. Smothering in
darkness, blind but sensing that the equinox
had come and gone—the sun returned at
last and lengthening the days—how urgently
we longed to break our bonds and dance.
And still we waited, waited on, exhilarated,
frightened, eager to explore; we would have
chosen to emerge before our time, too soon
discarding our protection but for intuition’s
wise reluctance, warning of another killing
frost… and so we waited, waited on, until
we thought that we must climb out of the
grave or die. Denied, we grew impatient, tried
to plan how it would be, and doubted our
ability to push through the detritus of
innumerable seasons, layers of debris that
moldered as we slept—dead grass; damp,
matted leaves; entangled roots of ancient trees
compounded by neglect and entropy… a feast
for worms, perhaps… for us, a trap, impenetrable
by such means as we possessed, without
momentum, drained of will, and utterly unequal
to the task.

So suddenly the moment comes, we are astonished
by the ease of our ascent despite our lack of
preparation, effortlessly rising through the loam
into the gentle light while slender threads roam
underground, revealing infinite supply.  Around us,
pomegranate, lavender, mesquite, and rose bloom
copiously, bearing fruit and indiscriminately offering
their attributes to creatures winged or crawling, great
or minuscule. We have been here before, astride
the grand continuum, awakening in spring, disporting
gleefully on endless-seeming summer afternoons, then
wonderfully ripening, as if we had reserved our true
magnificence for this extravagant display, this final
surge of life before the cycle of decay begins.

But we shall not descend again. Nature now is
satisfied, her laws suspended. She requires nothing
further from us. It is finished, and there will be
no more winters. Without limit, light becoming life
eternally, joy flows in rivers; bliss crowns the forests,
fields, and groves; and we have just begun to live.

All is as the Gospel promised:

In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
to shine on those who dwell in darkness
and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.*

It has begun, will be—and we shine on. Amen.

_IT-IS-FINISHED-LAKESIDE___

* From the Canticle of Zechariah, Luke 1:78-79
“It is finished” (John 19:30)

Prayers for Life’s Unfolding

 

carl-larsson-ethnic-children

…created in your image… (Carl Larsson, 1853-1919)

In response to prayer requests today for financial and employment fears and a little girl’s loss of her beloved kitty-cat

ANXIETY AND LACK

Almighty God, each day and every hour do you reveal the beauty of your spirit in creation, and by wonders you perform we learn to know you. How can we then fail to love you with our hearts, our souls, and our minds? You have created in each of your children a masterpiece, a lively spirit, perpetually renewed, ageless and unwearied. To each one of us do you impart particular gifts, no two the same, for you have made us in your image, one by one, and we receive not by what we deserve, not as reward, but out of your immeasurable love—ours to receive, embrace, and celebrate with gratitude.

O God, now send your Holy Spirit to your children to enfold, protect, and cherish. You give not meagerly but out of such abundance that we cannot help but receive it thankfully and with a grateful heart. Where there is difficulty, give us vision to see past it, far beyond, to your eternal presence and your perfect grace. Now guide us hour by hour and day by day along the path of holiness to joy and satisfaction. Be our portion, meat and drink, in thought and word and deed. May we then celebrate your generosity, becoming likewise openhanded and compassionate.

grass-field-sunrise-wallpaper

…the earth’s abundance…

Where we perceive that there is lack, open our eyes to all the gifts surrounding us and keep fresh our certainty that you, God, are the answer to all questions, the solution to all problems and perplexities. As we grow closer to you… hour by hour and day by day… may we feel the palpable and present love you have for us above all else. May it be our first thought in the morning and our last before we close our eyes. May we turn to you in joy and sorrow, sure of your wisdom, mercy, grace, and forgiveness, and your perfect love. God, may your will be done. Amen.

GRIEVING

girl-cat

?Willem Jan Willemsen 1866-1914

Dear God, what an astonishing creation you have given us in which to alternate activity and rest, where every creature great and small was made no two alike by you for holy purpose. Thank you, God, for prayer, our sacred conversation. We lift up to you our families, friends, companions—those on earth and those who have passed on. When death takes loved ones from our midst, we pray for healing, even as we know that they still live in ways mysterious to us. May we emerge from grieving to remember them with fewer tears and greater joy… for in your wisdom and compassion you have given us the love of family and friends who mourn with us and comfort us until the pain begins to ease. May loss not take our innocence and trust but leave us with a reverence for life, compassion quickly stirred by others’ suffering, wisdom and energy to offer aid and comfort. May we know you by those mercies, sense your presence, hear your voice, and glimpse your glory. Help us realize that we are needed by the living, who require our love and cherishing. In thankfulness and praise we offer this our prayer. Amen.

WORK

Almighty God, your love is beyond measure. To follow you is to live a life transformed and jubilant. Thank you, dear God, for the great gift of work. May it bring us joy and satisfaction. In it may your name be glorified. Send your Holy Spirit, God, to wrap us in tranquility and peace during transitions in our work life. May indecision, stress, discouragement, and uncertainty not overwhelm us. Lift us high and ever higher, should we slide in the direction of depression and anxiety. Then shine your light to guide us in the way that you would have us go. May your will be done, O God, in new, more nurturing employment or in our growth and inspiration where we are presently assigned. Make work the perfect channel for our gifts, our talents, our inclinations, and our energy. May we be blessed and likewise be a blessing to friends and colleagues, customers and clients, supervisors and assistants.

illus-by-hannie-holt-indoor-play

Dutch illustrator Hannie Holt 1940s

We pray for the encouragement of families, who give us strength when work leaves us feeling drained. Fortify all our relationships, particularly those most fragile and most vulnerable to the effects of stress. May our communication be loving, honest, and generous. Be present in our interaction, and may our harmony bless others and inspire them. Even now, God, you are working for our benefit, our healing, and our victory. We pray for renewed perspectives and grateful hearts, made strong and tender in your care. Send miracles, dear God—your grace made manifest in ways our minds can’t penetrate. Now let us rest in you and trust. Amen.

PROSPERITY

woman-hat-art-deco-artist-helene-lam

…prosperity and purpose… (Helena Lam

Merciful God, you shower us with blessings too numerous to count, too great to measure, and we bring you praise and thanks for giving us this day, so full of promise and of possibility, and for the gift—astonishing, perpetual—of prayer. And so I pray for true and genuine prosperity and for your bounty to be recognized, embraced, and celebrated. Sustain our minds and bodies so that they are radiant, made whole and strong and glowing with well-being. May your Holy Spirit enfold and heal us at every moment in the unfolding of our lives, at home, in travel, in the workplace, school, and place of worship. Bless our families and make our homes both safe and welcoming, places of activity and rest, where your spirit reigns. Meet our  financial needs and more, so that we are able to be generous as well as adequately fed and sheltered. And may our prayer be carried on the wings of angels and laid at your feet in confidence and trust. Amen.