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Archive for December, 2011

Overflowing Abundance

Abundant Beauty

I spent part of the Christmas holidays at a cottage where there was snow and a frozen lake. I was struck by its beauty – it’s abundant beauty. The sky was amazing, so big and clear being away from the city. The night sky was amazing – I recalled a childhood past time of finding constellations and of my dream to go out in space. One of my cousins informed me that that dream could come true – for $20k or so. Anyone want to donate to my fund for making my dream come true? I remember standing on the lake and looking up at the sky and just thinking about how much there is to explore and simply enjoy in creation. There is a whole abundance beyond this world that we know very little about!

While I was there, I was reading a book on Hospitality that I got for Christmas. This book was more about the theological reflection of our relationship with God, His hospitality and our acceptance of that hospitality rather than the practical ins and outs of practicing hospitality. One of the themes of the book was God’s abundance. It claims that God is not a God of scarcity – we see over and over in Scripture how He lavishes us with so much. Creation is just an example. But we see the people in the desert where God daily provided an abundance of manna, and then in the feeding of the five thousand with bushels full of left over food. We see in Christ how God gives his most precious gift – His Son – for us, so that we might be able to be in right relationship with God again.

I have been considering taking courses again towards my master of Divinity degree and I have been hesitating for a couple of reasons, one being spending the money. But I came home to cheques in the mail that for me, their amounts were abundant – way more than what I would spend on the courses. Unexpected overflowing abundance.

The book claims that our hospitality practices flow from the overflowing abundance that God lavishes upon us. That it just simply spills over because we live in gratitude. That we will give of ourselves, our home, our resources because we are filled. Filled so much that we are overflowing.

So my new year’s resolution is to live out of the abundance of what God lavishes on me. To live into His joy and love. To let Him fill me, fill me to the point that I can’t help but share this with others.

 

He is Waiting

Merry Christmas to you. Christmas is an interesting time for me – perhaps I will go into it at a another time. But I was reading something today that I wanted to share what struck me. I’m still working my way through Isaiah. I’ve so often heard that the God of the Old Testament is a God of wrath, while the God of the New Testament is a God of love. I have even thought that myself. But as I have been reading through Isaiah, I’ve been persuaded that God is consistently a God of Justice, mercy and love throughout Scripture. Following many of the judgment passages, are verses that speak of Israel’s renewal through the remnant of God’s people. Continually God is calling his people to return to him.

I read Isaiah 30 today.

Woe to the obstinate children, declares the Lord, ‘to those who carry out plans that are not mine, forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit, heaping sin upon sin; who go down to Egypt without consulting me; who look for help to Pharaoh’s protection, to Egypt’s shade for refugue

I got thinking about our communities study of Scripture this fall and the consistent theme that God was trying to get Egypt out of His people and bring them into the promised land. So often the Israelites looked back – how quick are we to forget what God has saved us from at times. I think Christmas memories really speak to that – the nostalgic thoughts that make Christmas out to be this holly jolly time when reality is that it is not for many people. Or at least it’s not a clean and tidy holiday – we were reminded on Christmas eve as a real donkey made a dump in the church how unclean and messy Christ’s entry into the world would have been. Not quite the sanitized nativity scene that we are all to used to. Anyways, here the Israelites are STILL choosing to look back and wish that they were in Egypt, still longing for the life they once had, forgetting how painful and binding the chains of slavery were.

How often do I look beyond the Lord for my help, refuge and guidance!

In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.

I was struck by how God lays out the path for salvation and strength – repentance, rest, quietness, trust – and how by looking back to Egypt for their needs, they continually refuse what God lavishes upon them. I started to think – is the Lord working on my heart to get “Egypt” out of me? I have often considered my leaving home to be an exodus from slavery. Maybe these years of waiting, as painful as they are, are a time of God continually calling me to lean on him only and to leave my past in Egypt. I thought it to be interesting too that rest and quietness are mentioned here after our Sabbath retreat. How easy it is to get busy and caught up in everything that distracts us from turning to the Lord in repentance and strength.

Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him.

And even though we constantly turn away from God, the Lord longs to be gracious, longs to be compassionate. He is waiting.

he is waiting.

Wow.

Shalom

  It doesn’t take long to get to know that I love my cat and that he is very much a piece of me and my life. My cat Shalom is named as a constant reminder of the wholeness that I am longing for and working towards. He keeps me company at night, entertains me by day, and is always up to trouble 🙂

B., one of the members of our community who is sort on the fringes of society, frequents are house and often comes with “cat torturing devices” such as a fake mouse or a ribbon on a string. They have become good friends and I smile at this because this is the role that I had hoped that Shalom would fill here at Camino House. Camino House is a house of hospitality and we have members of the Jeremiah Community come by frequently, visitors who want to check out our community, and people in need who need a place to stay for the night for whatever reason. Shalom is affectionate and playful and brings smiles to people’s faces (unless someone is allergic to him, in that case Shalom works extra hard to gain those people’s affection in return even though his attempts are often failed attempts). B. as one example though gets much pleasure with hanging out with Shalom on the couch.

When Shalom and I first moved into Camino house, I wasn’t sure if it was going to work. Shalom was pretty spooked out with all the boxes and the people coming and going. He had never really heard the sounds of cars and we now live facing a factory – at the sound of the trucks, he would flinch in fear. A particularly traumatic moment demonstrated his distress – in reaction to a vacuum sound, he took a swipe at my face leaving me with a wound that required nine stitches.

Gradually Shalom has branched out into other areas of the house. Once fearful, he now walks around with pride and ownership, as the king of the house. For the most part, he respects the areas he is not allowed in, though he is overcome with temptation now and again. Shalom greets our many guests and makes them feel welcome. He joins us in the kitchen for meals, attacks flowers in the office, and has a spot perched on the stairs so that he can see everything.

His latest spot is in M. and R.’s room on top of their clean laundry. For some reason he’s chosen to hang out there during the day in a deep sleep covering the baby clothes. I wasn’t sure how Shalom would get along with the twin (almost) toddlers here. But they have been respectful of each other. The kids have called the cat “Mow” (as in “bow”) which is the cutest thing ever.

Shalom is going away for a few days where he will meet Safi and Jamokie, two other brown tabby cats. Is it silly to say that I am praying that they will all get along? My friend K has been generous to take on Shalom while I am away for the holidays.

I am going to miss my cat. Miss his comforting purrs, him licking my nose, his calming presence on the edge of my bed and even the wake up calls of him poking me in the eye. Oh how I love my Shalom, my adorable 20lb cat.

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Held by God

My housemates and I had a “secret Santa” exchange last night. My present made me smile pretty big since my secret Santa knows me well – Steve Bell cd and dvd, with chord charts printed out. Could a gift get any better than that? So surprise, surprise, a Steve Bell song has struck me and I am going to write about it 🙂

This is always a tough time of year for me. And as much as I try to make it a happier, jollier time, I struggle against the war of depression (I just typed out by accident “the wart of depression” – interestingly, I think that quite aptly describes it! A thorn in my side that won’t go away). This year, I am disappointed to be struggling again as I know that I hurt those who love me last year through my careless outlook on life and also I have done so much work this year to move past the issues that stood before me last year. And I have come a long way and give thanks for that. I think living in community has been a huge healing peace for me. Despite a couple of tough days this weekend, my housemates and I were able to laugh and have fun together while baking, consuming alcohol and watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

A lot of my weekend though was spent wrestling with tough issues and crying out to God to simply hold me and comfort me in my pain. Anyways, last night I started listening to the Steve Bell song “He will know”. I will leave you with these lyrics as they speak beautifully for themselves. I felt held by the Lord as I heard this song. Thanks be to God.

When your heart is in despair, He will know/ When you feel beyond repair, He will know/ When your day is filled with tears, He will hear/ When your night is filled with fear, He will hear. When this world leaves you behind, he will know/ When it all seems so unkind, He will know.

He will know, He will know, He will know.

-Steve Bell, He will know

Perfect Faithfulness

I have been reading through Isaiah lately and am really enjoying it. Though I admit to being completely baffled by some of the curses and judgements found in so many of the chapters! I persisted through many of these chapters to come to a hopeful section. I am glad I persisted 🙂

Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done wonderful things, things planned long ago […] You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in their distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat […] The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken. – Isaiah 25:1,4,8

The phrase “perfect faithfulness” really stood out to me. A book I was reading today on the subway was summarizing the book of Hosea in showing how God woos his people back into relationship by bringing them through the valleys so that they can be rid of their independence and sinful ways. As the people turn their back on the Lord, the Lord continues to woo, to reach out to them, to love them. I think we see that in Isaiah here. Just a couple of chapters back, we hear “The Lord Almighty planned it, to bring down her pride in all her splendor, and to humble all who are renowned on the earth” (Isaiah 23:9). But God’s faithfulness remains. Perfect faithfulness. In the midst of judgement and the humbling of the proud, he loves his people through this time. Reminds me of a Steve Bell song:

Judge for yourself how great is the one/ Who lives in God – whose God is love/ Like an iron when left in embers bright/ Everything if fire – everything is light […] Burning ember/ I remember Love’s first light in me/ I was cold then/ Like a stone when I saw your flickering/ Oh what beauty as You drew near me/ I could scarcely speak/ Somehow I knew/ I would be new in your glowing. – Burning Ember

Everything if fire – everything is light. In the midst of judgement and fire, there is light, a reminder of God’s presence in the burning ember. A reminder that he will make me new in His glowing.

Last night I wrote about reaching a place of tears and pain again in my life, where my tears fill, as Bruce Cockburn says, the whole night sky. And today’s reading of Scripture promises a day when God will not only see my tears but wipe them away. Oh what beauty as God draws near me.

The Whole Night Sky

Tonight a Bruce Cockburn song sings to my heart. I recently went to a book launch for “Kicking in the Darkness” by Brian Walsh with a concert tribute to the works of Cockburn. Walsh said that people feel understood when they hear the lyrics of Cockburn’s work. I know that that is true for me. Tonight that is true again.

Those who are new to my journey may not know what the year(s) behind us have held. This time last year, I hit some pretty dark times. Christmas is a hard time for me generally as it is a painful reminder that all is not right in my world and my family and I are separated. But last year, it was more than the seasonal blues that I was facing – I had endured a few days testifying in an intense criminal trial and the sentencing. My grandmother passed away without us being reconciled – something that still is painful in my life (I have asked the Lord why he allowed this when I have longed so much to be reconciled. I continue to search for these answers). The funeral held drama as I felt very much like the black sheep of the family, excluded from family affairs and having to defend my very position as a member of the family when asked about my presence there. Tears form as I mention this wound, a wound that is fettered and stinks still.

They turned their  their backs/ I made it too hard/ Every place they touched me/ is a laceration now.

Last year I just hit this dark path that was too much to walk and I crashed. Just when those dark days were lightening a bit, I was laid off from my job that I had loved. At the time, I felt crushed. But now (in between the bitter moments!) I see that as God having mercy in my life and helping me get onto a better path. I have been off work since then and am now officially on medical leave so that is how I fund my life at the moment. I’m listening to Cockburn’s collection and just heard the line “Sometimes darkness is your friend”. Being laid off enabled me to enter a period of rest, something that was recommended to me by many but something I was unwilling to do. It has been a year of regrouping, of recharging my batteries, of learning opportunities such as the volunteer work I am doing, laughing with the twins I live with and being a part of a really exciting community.

Tonight I feel the pain and desparation that is simply way too familiar to me.

Sometimes a wind comes out of nowhere/ and knocks you off your feet/ And look, see my tears/ they fill the whole night sky/ the whole night sky

It’s different from last year. But I find myself once again in a fragile place longing for family, wondering if there is anything else that I could possibly do to mend broken relationships, and having my heart weighed down with memories and broken spaces in my soul.

Derailed and desperate/ How did I get here?/ Hanging from this high wire/ By the tatters of my faith

I’m not sure how I got here again, hanging by the tatters of my faith. But there is one thing I know. Last year, another Bruce Cockburn song spoke to me – Strange Waters. it is a song based on Psalm 23 and ends with the question “If I loose my grip, will I take flight”.

I know now that if I loose my grip, God will lift me up. If I take flight, God will catch me. And so I hang here, by the tatters of my faith, in the midst of strange waters with my tears filling the whole night sky…. I am here, again. For reasons I do not understand. But I know that God is with me.

Groans too deep for words

Groans too deep with words.

Back when I joined camino house and began a commitment to morning and evening prayer, I felt a nudge from God to pray actively and daily for my family. For truth and reconciliation, for healing, for comfort, for a miracle. Some nights I didn’t feel like praying for them or bothering my friends with the same old prayer request. Sometimes there would be new people at prayer and I didn’t feel like opening a wound.

It’s that time of year again. It’s Christmas – when families gather. I am gathering with some relatives and I am thankful for that. But I yearn for my immediate family. Yearn to be reunited with them. Yearn to wake up on Christmas morning anticipating the stockings and the laughter.

It’s that time of year again where my heart aches.

Tonight at Bible study, I had a clear thought around prayer time. I haven’t been praying for my family lately. Haven’t wanted to. I realized tonight that it is simply to painful right now.

Instead, maybe at this time, I will cling to my Maker as good ol’ Kierkegaard encourages us to do and let him hear my groans.

Groans that are too deep for words.

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