God in the Fall

photo courtesy of google image search

photo courtesy of google image search

Hello, September!

Something about the transitory seasons turns me into a little kid.

They make me think of new beginnings, even more so than the New Year which is unfortunately placed in the dead of winter. September has always signified to me the turning over of a new leaf, if you’ll pardon the terrible pun. Despite the fact that I haven’t technically been “back-to-school” since 2008 (or perhaps because of it), I look forward to the advent of autumn with the enthusiasm of a kid waiting for Christmas.

Summer is too hot and winter is too cold. Spring and autumn are my happy places.

photo courtesy of www.weheartit.com

photo courtesy of http://www.weheartit.com

One of the reasons why I love fall is because I associate it with this one memory of my childhood. For the life of me I can’t remember how old I was, but I don’t think that detail is important.

I think it was around Thanksgiving, and it was a warm, crisp, radiant autumn. We had just gone on a family hike. Afterward, true to family form, we went for a long, relaxing drive through the countryside. We were listening to a Darrell Evans worship tape (so this must have been the late 90s – a brief look at Wikipedia tells me this album, Let the River Flow, was released in 1997).

As the glorious fall foliage – pumpkin patches, trees in their full splendour – streamed past the van windows, both the worship songs and the beautiful scenery spoke to my child’s heart and inspired a gratitude for God’s creation and the expression of music, as well as the cozy, heart-warming feeling that results from special time spent with family.

photo courtesy of pinterest.com

photo courtesy of http://www.pinterest.com

Whenever the leaves start to turn colour and the air begins to cool in the mornings and at night, I find myself filled with nostalgia for that time. Thanksgiving, leaves, sweaters, pumpkins, the whole family staring out the window in quiet reflection as the van ambles along the country road with no destination in mind, Darrell Evans … it’s all inexorably linked in my mind.

photo courtesy of www.weheartit.com

photo courtesy of http://www.weheartit.com

I gave into the craving today (or was it God’s gentle prompting?) and started listening to Darrell Evans songs in my headphones at work. Without going into too much detail, I’ve been stressed lately, and working through some things, and despite my excitement for fall, I’ve been coming home at the end of the day feeling exhausted.

These words had a way of reaching into my heart, soothing it, and reminding me of the futility of worry:

I will seek you Lord

While I am in my youth

I will serve you Lord

And I’ll proclaim your truth

For you search and found me while I was far away

In my troubled times you always keep me safe

 

The Lord is my light and my salvation

Whom shall I fear

The Lord the stronghold of my life

Whom shall I fear

 

Cause I will seek you Lord

While I am in my youth

I will serve you lord and I’ll proclaim your truth

For you search and found me while I was far away

And in my troubled times you always keep me safe.

 

Exactly what I needed to hear this morning.

 

I will seek you Lord

While I am in my youth

 

photo courtesy of www.pinterest.com

photo courtesy of http://www.pinterest.com

That special time, forever etched in my memory, of simply listening to music and existing in silence with each other as a family, had more of a profound effect on my spiritual journey as a child than Sunday School, Christian education, or any sermon I’d heard in a church pew. I don’t remember those, I remember that. 

It is my hope and prayer that I’d be able to create these memories with my family someday, too.

photo courtesy of www.weheartit.com

photo courtesy of http://www.weheartit.com

 

Here are the links to a few of the Darrell Evans songs from my youth:

 

 

 

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Immanuel

In the wake of a tragedy, the world is sensitive and throbbing, like a wound irritated and freshly opened. Fingers are pointed and blame is cast–from guns to mental illness to the government to the belief that God was “kicked out of the public school system long ago,” the last one standing out from the others as something that makes me so, so sad and not for the reason you’d think.

It’s simply because I don’t think it’s true.

In her blog, Rachel Held Evans counters the argument that “God did not show up at Sandy Hook because ‘God is not allowed in public schools,’ because ‘we have systematically removed God from that place'” by stating:

God can be wherever God wants to be. God needs no formal invitation. We couldn’t ‘systematically remove’ God if we tried.

photo courtesy of www.weheartit.com

photo courtesy of http://www.weheartit.com

Like Rachel Held Evans, I feel troubled and provoked by the assertion that God can be removed from somewhere, especially in light of the Christmas message that He sent His son to be Immanuel.

God with us.

Allow me this space to vent.

God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8), He is higher and more powerful than our human laws, and our government, and our educational systems and institutions, all the ways in which we attempt to organize our messy and sinful world.

He is more infinite, more far-reaching, and big that even our most sophisticated systems and intelligent laws cannot even begin to explain what He can do.

To think that a law, a bill, or an institution can keep God out is to greatly limit how vast and powerful He is. Preventing children from saying the Lord’s prayer in schools will not keep Him out, because, as Rachel Held Evans says, He cannot be kept out. He is everywhere at all times, God with us, even when we can’t feel it, even when we think something we’ve done or let happen will keep Him out.

What’s even more troubling to me than the loss of the Lord’s prayer in schools is that hearts have turned away from Him and don’t know His love. Because His people, Christians, aren’t showing them love–they’re keeping it to themselves, sequestered in their churches and programs and systems and then shaking their heads in disbelief when the rest of the world doesn’t follow suit.

They think that what a broken and hurting world needs is another church, another building, another system, another organization, another program or law, turning their noses up at the whiff of anything subversive or different, forgetting how subversive and different the very core of their religion is.

It is not, I believe, the system, the government, the organization, the program or law that people need. Telling people what to do and how to live their lives and “taking over” the government is not going to cause people everywhere to fall on their knees and take up Christianity.

It is you, Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27).

It’s people, showing His love to other people in the simplest of ways, showing others how valuable they are without a script or a tract or a million-dollar church building or the “anointing” of another spiritual celebrity.

As previously mentioned, Jesus was different. He didn’t require the most sophisticated synagogue to reach out to people, or traveling funds or ministry school degrees or the celebrity status of the modern-day spiritual leader.

His ministry was so simple. He sat with people–the prostitute, the tax collector, the homeless, the adulteress, the sick and poor and forgotten and neglected and built relationships with them. He listened to them, broke bread with them, wiped their tears and spoke to them, the ones from whom many church people would turn away.

Because it was the religious people who ticked Him off, how they inflated their own egos and turned his “church” from being about people to being about getting money from people.

It is my personal opinion that many Christians are fighting the wrong fight. They’re fighting for laws to be passed and systems to be changed, when they should be focusing on how they can change their own hearts from being marred by self-righteousness and pride.

The fact of the matter is simply this:

Jesus loved people, and if we want to change the world, that’s what we have to do too.

The Tao of Tea

Me and my cup of Irish Breakfast. Is there any pleasure greater?

Tea … is there anything better than the assured pleasure of a good cup of tea? Bernard-Paul Heroux said, “there is no trouble so great or grave that cannot be diminished by a nice cup of tea,” and I tend to agree.

Tea is the sacred elixir of secrets. It’s steeped inspiration. In a dainty teacup or a hearty mug (such as I prefer), it holds sips of bliss, energy, repose, whatever is needed to greet each day. When tea is shared amongst friends, the tiniest details become soothing ritual and contain hidden gems. Waiting for the water to boil, waiting for the tea to steep to perfection … in a world of instant gratification, the simple act of making tea draws us gently back to simplicity, to an art practised in ancient times.

I’ll let you in on a little secret, because I’m enjoying a steaming mug of Earl Grey in the warmth of this spring afternoon and the birds are chirping and it’s quiet and I’m feeling candid: one of the things that endeared someone to me was the way they made me a thermos of tea to take on the road one morning, and they looped the teabag string around the thermos handle to prevent the bag from falling in. Perhaps they didn’t think anything of it, but that tiny gesture, to me, spoke volumes of sweet thoughtfulness.

When I see people gathered over pots of tea, I feel like I’m witnessing the true connection of souls. My thoughts on tea could possibly be labeled as romantic and sentimental, but I believe there’s pure poetry in the way we prepare our tea, magic in the warmth it spreads to our bodies and our hearts. I believe that the way each individual takes their tea reveals multitudes about the person themselves. I like my tea extra strong and of the black variety (think: English Breakfast, Irish Breakfast, Orange Pekoe, or Earl Grey), sweetened with milk and sugar, teabag in to maintain its strength. What does this say about me? Courage and resilience, tempered with just the right amount of sweetness? It’s possible …

How do you prefer your tea? What does it reveal about you?

Tea is medicinal, to the body and the soul, and an important cultural activity, from the ancient Chinese and Japanese to the United Kingdom. Clearly I’m not the only one who has waxed poetic over the wonders of tea:

The Philosophy of Tea is not mere aestheticism … for it expresses conjointly with ethics and religion our whole point of view about man and nature. It is hygiene, for it enforces cleanliness; it is economics, for it shows comfort in simplicity rather than in the complex and costly; it is moral geometry, inasmuch as it defines our sense of proportion to the universe — Kakuzo Okakura, Book of Tea

Tea is more than an idealization of the form of drinking, it is a religion of the art of life — Kakuzo Okakura, Book of Tea 

The mere chink of cups and saucers tunes the mind to happy repose — George Gissing

If man has no tea in him, he is incapable of understanding truth and beauty — Japanese proverb

Find yourself a cup of tea; the teapot is behind you. Now tell me about hundreds of things — Saki

All true tea lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a little stronger with each year that passes — George Orwell

Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the whole earth revolves–slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future — Thich Nhat Hanh

You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me — C.S. Lewis

While there’s tea, there’s hope — Sir Arthur W. Pinero

There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea — Henry James

A cup of Awake tea and Elizabeth Gaskell

 And now my friends, it’s just about lunchtime. After that, a cup of tea. So goes the day …

The Love of a Good Woman

woman, thou art loosed

I am utterly convinced that not only was Jesus an anomaly in the way he treated women living within a patriarchal culture, but that some of the most simplistically beautiful and poetic language in the Bible is reserved for women and the inner workings of their hearts. Small, subtle passages packed with meaning.

Consider:

Ruth 1:16-17 “But Ruth replied, ‘Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!'”

Matthew 28:1, 8-9 “Early on Sunday morning, as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to visit the tomb […] The women ran quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with joy, and they rushed to give the disciples the angel’s message. And as they went, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they ran to him, grasped his feet, and worshipped him.”

(Note that the first people Jesus appeared to upon resurrecting were women. Significant?)

Luke 1:41-45 “At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, ‘God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed. Why am I so honoured, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said’.”

Luke 2:18-19 “All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary treasured these things in her heart and thought about them often.”

Luke 7: 37-38 “When a certain immoral woman from that city heard he was eating there, she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume. Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair.Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them.”

Luke 10: 38-42 “As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed them into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, ‘Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.’ But the Lord said, ‘My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.'”

... and it was not taken away from her

You know what these scriptures reveal to me? That God truly values and treasures women and that we are a uniquely fashioned reflection of him and of his beauty, creativity, poetry, loyalty, and fierce — nearly inexplicable — love.

Men are special too, of course; that goes without saying. But I’m a woman and I cannot help but be captivated by these Biblical women who treasure things in their hearts and turn them over often like precious jewels, who fall at Jesus’ feet without abandon in front of rich and important men and bathe him in their tears, who shirk domestic duties to bask in his presence.

Although the position of women in Biblical times and their role in that culture was obviously not ideal — from our standpoint — it’s still worth noting that the women that are mentioned are given a special significance (Mary the mother of Jesus alone is worth contemplation, especially in Catholicism). Despite the damage that man has done over the years in terms of bigotry and religion, it wouldn’t be a stretch to look at all the passages of the Bible that speak about women (making sure to include Esther, Deborah, Anna, Rahab, the Shulamite woman, the Samaritan woman, etc.) and conclude that God respects, adores, and cherishes his brides.

Another thing that the scriptures I highlighted illustrate is that a woman’s love is fervent and unparalleled — whether it be for her family (even her mother-in-law), her child, or her Lord, and perhaps even … her man (I would suggest looking at the book of Ruth and Songs of Solomon for some interesting love stories).

You see, the love of a good woman is precious beyond measure. It’s undefinable, often impractical, at times illogical. You’ll look at these women who are faithfully, unwaveringly devoted to ungrateful partners, rebellious children, selfish friends, and think, how could she be so weak? How could she love someone like that? They don’t deserve her love. Perhaps they don’t, but her love remains constant. Her treasures trampled. Her gift — selfless love — abused. The corruption of the world renders her love obsolete, worthless, cheap, laughable, pathetic. Counterfeit love reigns supreme.

i offered you my love and it was pure and true like a million twinkling stars

But it doesn’t have to.

Women, let’s love our families, our friends, our partners and our First Love without abandon, without restraint, without fear of rejection or misuse. Let’s take a lesson from these Biblical women and let the fires of our love never cool. Let’s throw ourselves at Jesus’ feet and let ourselves be loved immaculately so we can in turn lavish that love onto others.

And men, please cherish our love like the priceless gift it is …

Adornment

" ... a beauty neither of fine colour, nor long eyelash, nor penciled brow, but of meaning, of movement, of radiance ..."

As a feminist in a post-feminist world, I’ve always had an issue with the Apostle Paul and his whole “wives, submit to your husbands” shpiel and sometimes I like to pretend it’s not in the Bible.

As a Christian, I’ve always kind of felt guilty about that.

Surprisingly, much debate still arises from Paul’s letters to the Corinthians and verses that have been used out of context to keep women silent and uninvolved in ministry (or in any position of authority). What do you really do with verses that state, as in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, that “the women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church”?

You would think that, in 2010, Christians would be aware of the fact that Paul was speaking to a particular church about a specific problem in a certain culture (ie. the womenfolk using the church as their place to gossip and heckle each other), but sadly, I’ve had some debates with believers who strongly believe that the Word is as alive to today as it was then and it is blasphemy to try to make the Bible culturally relevant because it clearly states “man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake” (1 Corinthians 11:9); therefore, a woman is inferior to a man and it is in God’s design that a man have the power and authority in church and otherwise, and a woman ought to be silent and submissive.

I have actually heard those arguments, and when I hear them spoken by women, it grieves my heart. Yes, I believe the Bible is as alive today as it was when it was written and you cannot mess with the word of God, but still … it’s all about context, context, context. I don’t think it’s blasphemous to take a step back from scripture sometimes and think it through, keeping it mind that yes, it is living and true, but it was also written a very long, long time ago and some things just aren’t relevant anymore. Women can vote, own companies, be CEOS, and get equal pay, yet they shouldn’t be in positions of authority in the church (with the exclusion of Children’s and Women’s Ministries)?

Something doesn’t quite add up there … We certainly don’t sacrifice our livestock anymore, and if we did, it would be ridiculous since the society back then was far more agricultural than it is now and animals were often used as currency. So to subordinate women for the sake of obeying God’s word? It just doesn’t make sense.

there is truth in the red letters

In cases like this, I always go back to the life, words, and actions of Jesus, since He is what it’s all about. Jesus was culturally radical when it came to his treatment of women. He spoke to women, personally, in the same way He spoke to men. Not only that — He spoke to marginalized women, like the adulterous Samaritan and offered her truth and hope rather than judgment. In Luke 10, Jesus is at the home of Mary and Martha and is teaching Mary, something a rabbi in that culture certainly would not have done. He says, ” … Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10: 42)

It certainly shall not.

While there are portions of the Bible directed to women that admittedly still make me cringe, there are passages I can learn from and apply to my everyday life. Proverbs 31 is one. And 1 Peter 3, even though it does start out with, “wives, be submissive to your husbands” (but I don’t have a husband so I don’t need to worry about that!)

Last Sunday, I was at a church service, and my friend’s husband was preaching from 1 Peter 1 and for some reason, I found myself drawn to 1 Peter 3:3-4 which says, “your adornment must not be merely external–braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.”

That verse touched me like it never has before, and I didn’t interpret it as another attempt of the early church to subjugate women. Instead, it speaks of something greater, something close to my heart. It’s not merely what’s on the outside, it’s what’s on the inside that is lovely and beautiful to God. It’s who you are in secret, when you’re not in church and around other Christians and playing Perfect Little Christian Girl. It’s ridding yourself of performance, jealousy, insecurity, and pride, and allowing the Holy Spirit to transform you.

There is, I think, a marked difference between silent and quiet. I can live with that.

Exploring New Frontiers

All you sci-fi lovers and Trekkies out there, this episode is for you!

On this week’s Listen Up TV . . . boldly exploring the genre at the spiritual frontier.

Watch the full episode at:

 www.listenuptv.com

Confession: I’ve never seen one episode of Star Trek and I’ve always found the genre of sci-fi–particularly the hysterical fandom that comes with it–a little lame.  However, I genuinely enjoyed working on this show and am beginning to see this interesting connection between sci-fi/fantasy and spirituality.

May the force be with you . . .

Sha la la la la la live for today

When you are in the present moment, you break the continuity of your story, of past and future.  The true intelligence arises, and also love.  The only way love can come into your life is not through form, but through that inner spaciousness that is Presence.  Love has no form.

–from Stillness Amidst the World by Eckhart Tolle.

Albert here clearly understands the power of now

Albert here clearly understands the power of now

Spiritual teacher and self-help author Eckhart Tolle has inspired millions to embrace today, not obsessing about the past or worrying about the future.  My friend Joyce–who, when I knew her, was an 85-year-old firecracker–was very influenced by Tolle’s book The Power of Now.  When I had tea and key lime pie with her two Octobers ago under the pretense of an interview for my Journalism class, she taught me Tolle’s main principals.  The transformation of consciousness is central to Tolle’s teachings, a sort of spiritual awakening which transcends our ego-based state of consciousness (taken from Tolle’s official Web site: www.eckharttolle.com)  Apparently, Tolle has brought the “power of now” message to the young and the impressionable in a book called Milton’s Secret: An Adventure of Discovery through Then, When, and The Power of Now, which teaches children that living in the Now is the truest path to happiness and enlightenment. 

Joyce’s lesson meant a lot more to me two years ago, when I was a lot less content and happy.  I was going through some stuff, regretting the past and feeling anxious about the future, and she taught me that you can only be truly happy if you’re living in the present moment.

If I’m not mistaken, meditation attempts to focus the mind on the present moment in order to reach a higher state of consciousness, self-awareness or relaxation.  In Hinduism, yoga is considered a form of meditation, a practice that dates back thousands of years.  Buddha was said to have achieved enlightenment by meditating under a bodhi tree.  In monotheistic religions, such as Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, the difference from Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Sikhism lies in vocabulary: what is “meditation” to one religion is “prayer” to another.  Religious dogmas aside, the principles are nearly the same.  Focusing your thoughts, calming your spirit, and engaging with a higher power.

What troubles me about the power of Now and some of Tolle’s teachings is this: if transforming your mind to focus on the Here and Now is of the utmost importance, then what about morality and hope?  I think there’s something ethically unsettling about being in the Now and nothing else. 

From contemplating the past and ruminating on one’s mistakes or missteps, one is able to make it right the next time and learn valuable lessons for the future.  Morality lies in constant self-improvement, occasional remorse, and changeability, not from something inherent inside of you which somehow knows right from wrong.  I’m not saying that we should constantly be on our knees in self-flagellating prayer, beseeching the heavens for mercy for our many faults and foibles, but how else will you learn to make amends and change your negative ways for the better?  Memories, good or bad, exist in the realm of the past, and without them, we have nothing with which to measure the present.  If I didn’t occasionally take a trip down memory lane, and sometimes bring to mind some unpleasant memories, I wouldn’t appreciate where I am now.  By no means is obsessing about the past helpful, but it can definitely help give you some much-needed perspective.

The future then, is the realm of hope, goals, dreams, and further improvement.  We have to think about the future when making important decisions and all the repercussions thereof.  Without that forward gaze, without hope for a future of positive changes, then what do we have to live for? 

I suppose what I’m suggesting then, is that yes, there is power in the Now and perhaps we are at our happiest when focused on the present moment.  However, there is also power in learning from the past and hoping for a better tomorrow (someone needs to stop me before I sound even more like a commercial for life insurance).  The key is finding a balance. 

And like most things in life, balance is as complicated as happiness.