Friday, April 20, 2018
There have been those afternoons when I have heard the rushing wind crossing the line of trees down in the branch as it prepared to race across the hayfield to the place where I was standing. Actually, the sound was the sound of the tree tops suddenly coming to life with this surprising and unexpected breath from the distant horizon. No one knew the wind was coming. Not the trees. And though I welcomed it on those hot and still afternoons, I was as surprised as the waving trees.
When Jesus talked about the Spirit to Nicodemus, He used a word which can be translated "wind" or "spirit." And when the gospel writer Luke spoke of the coming of the Holy Spirit in the second chapter of Acts, he used the image of rushing wind. There are other windy moments in the Biblical story and they often seem to usher in the arrival of the holy. On these days when the wind has kept everything moving in its path, it has been easy for the mind to wander to thinking about the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is ever present with us. The Word speaks of the Holy Spirit as One who dwells and abides within us. And even though we know this to be true from years of following after Jesus, we still find ourselves surprised sometimes how He can move upon us in overwhelming and powerful ways. When the Holy Spirit unleashes Himself fully in our lives, every part of our inner being is touched and moved. Nothing about our life is as it was before this wind of God is felt hard against our soul. When it happens it is not for our pleasure, but for some purpose of God. When the Holy Spirit grabs our attention in a powerful way, we should not run to tell others, but we should run to the place where we pray and seek out the answer to the question, "Why?"
Thursday, April 19, 2018
Today I spent some time watching the wind. Of course, no one can really watch the wind. You can feel it. You can hear it. But, there is not watching it. The only watching to be done is the way the things around us acknowledge its presence. Such was the case today as I watched trees being captured by this unseen presence which was powerfully sweeping through them from root to soaring branches. For a moment all my attentive energy was captured as surely as every branch was captured by this powerfully blowing wind.
As I watched and thought about what was before me, I was reminded of the way the wind prunes the tree. Decaying and dead limbs are no match for the wind and soon break and begin their journey to the ground where they would, if left alone, become part of the natural compost which nurtures the tree. And, of course, the wind is life giving. The pecan trees which grow around here depend on the wind to pollinate so that another crop of pecans are produced.
As I watched the tree moving from top to bottom in response to the presence of the wind, I wanted to ask a tree if it gave itself willingly to the wind, or did it push against it trying to stand erect and tall as it always seems to do. I wanted to ask if the movement of the branches spoke of abandonment on the part of the tree, or a moment of being completely overwhelmed by the power of the wind. I wondered and even dared to ask. Perhaps, it was not really a question for the tree, but a question for my heart.
Tuesday, April 17, 2018
Last night as I put my head on the pillow waiting for sleep to come, a phrase from a gospel song suddenly showed up in my mind along with the tune. So, as we sometimes do, I sang the words in the quietness of my mind. It was indeed the kind of singing no one could hear. The singing of that one phrase led to the one that followed it and within a minute or so I was remembering and quietly singing a song I had not heard or sung since a child. It was a comforting song. At the time I thought it was like a prayer. I went to sleep with this song of faith stirring my heart and memory.
About dark tonight I remembered the moment. I had gone through the whole day without that holy moment being remembered. It surprised me that I had not thought about it much earlier in the day. But, I had not. The whole day passed before I remembered that moment of praying through an old song. The only problem is I cannot remember the song. I just remember the moment. I just remember it having happened. The words, the tune, the name of the song was all remembered so clearly last night as I was about to go to sleep, but today it is completely gone. Try as I might, I cannot force my mind to bring it back into conscious thought.
I wish I knew. I would like to remember. I remember thinking I would write it down in my journal. I wonder if anyone can help me. Remember the story of Daniel interpreting the dream of Nebuchadnezzar. The King had a dream he wanted interpreted, but he would not tell the wise men who might interpret it the actual dream. Their challenge was to interpret a dream they did not know. Only Daniel was up to the task. But, as the story unfolds in the second chapter of Daniel, it was the Lord who revealed the dream and the interpretation to Daniel. Just wondering. Anyone with a Daniel like connection who might help me remember that song?
Friday, April 13, 2018
I have been walking on this road for a long time. If I started walking it at baptism, I was nine years old. If you figure from the time I mark as the moment I said "yes" to Jesus as an adult, then the walk begins just before I graduated from high school. Looking back, though, gives me a sense that I was on the road before either of those two life changing events. I think dealing with my father's death at age seven was the first time I found my feet on the road that would finally bring me to faith in Christ.
Regardless of the place where I stepped on this road, I have been on this journey of faith a long, long time. In the beginning I had no sense of the others who had walked the road ahead of me. As the years have passed I have come to an awareness of the many footprints that are etched in the dirt behind and ahead of me. I am not the first one to walk this road. Peter and John have left their footprints on the path. The Apostle Paul, too. Others have left evidence of being on the road as well. Francis, Clare, Ignatius, John of the Cross, Martin Luther, John Wesley, Dwight L. Moody, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, E. Stanley Jones, and Mother Teresa are just a few of the others whose footprints can be seen.
If all who walked this road could walk it at the same time, there would hardly be enough room for these feet of mine to walk. I should never be on the same road as these anyway. And when I stop and realize that the first feet on the road were the feet of the crucified and risen One of God, I find myself knowing that my place is not on the road, but somewhere off on the side where only sinners dare walk. But, then the road I have been walking is not just a dirt filled dusty road marked by the footprints of the saints, but a road covered with grace. And, so by the grace of God, I walk on.
Wednesday, April 11, 2018
I am not exactly sure what year I started reading the Bible, but it was a long time ago. I can also remember my first Bible and, actually, still have it stuck back in a box. As I think about a life time of reading the Word, it seems that I have read it for different reasons at different times in my spiritual journey. As a young boy, I was taken in by the stories, particularly those in the Old Testament. If there were discrepancies or things that I could not understand, it did not bother me, nor keep me from reading.
Later in my early Christian years, it became a spiritual "how to" book. Far too much legalism worked its way into my beginning years of the journey and I read the book to find out how to do the Christian life, what to do and not do, and how to judge whether others were on track. The pleasure of reading as a boy was replaced by the duty of young believer. And, of course, as I moved along into college and seminary, the Word became something other than a spiritual guide. It became a textbook to be examined and questioned. Lost was the wonder of the boy reading and in its place came the skeptic out to prove everything.
As I have become an old man, I find myself more like the boy. Maybe such is how life works. I still read the Word, but it is more like an old friend who has enabled me to make it this far in this journey of faith. I read with gratitude and respect. I no longer read out of duty. I read with longing and expectation. I still have some questions, but mostly, I want to just sit with this old spiritual companion and listen for the voice of God Who I have learned still speaks.
Tuesday, April 10, 2018
When I was a boy, comic books cost a dime. To get more mileage out of the dime, my friends and I would trade our comic books with one another. Trading is in many ways a lost art these days. When I was serving as pastor in Vidalia, I came to be good friends with Ron, the Episcopal priest. He was there when I arrived and still there when I left after ten years. Ron and I traded books. He gave me a copy of "The Book of Common Prayer" and I gave him a copy of "The United Methodist Hymnal." It seemed like a good exchange at the time, but as the years have passed, it seems to me that I got the best end of our trade.
I say that I got the best end of the trade because I have used that book more times than I can count. I learned a new appreciation for written prayers and liturgy as I started using it. My congregation benefited from it as I used some of the material within those pages in our Sunday liturgy. But, what I really learned more than anything else was the value of a liturgy that has been used for more than just a generation. I found power being unleashed in my own life as I became immersed in prayers and spoken words that the Christian community had been using for a long, long time.
I learned that our disdain for written prayers and liturgy is more of a judgment on ourselves than on a tradition which may not be as extemporaneous as ours. There is this great stream of words and prayers and other liturgical expressions which has empowered believers and to stand within it with an open heart can be a powerful moment of worship. Every community of faith has its liturgy. It may not be filled with tradition, but it is still the order for the church. To throw out something used for centuries simply because it is old is a great loss.
Monday, April 9, 2018
I can remember where I was when I learned the soliloquys from Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar." It was in Mrs. Evan's high school literature class. And while I cannot quote any of those long literary masterpieces as I did back then, every now and again some parts of one or the other will rise up out of the gray matter to be recited again. However, I cannot remember when I learned "The Apostle's Creed," or "The Lord's Prayer," or "The Doxology," or some other memorized piece of liturgy. It just happened. But, where it happened was in church services.
The "when" may not be as time specific as my Shakespeare memorizations, but the "where" is certain. Church is where it happened. While I was squirming through the hour and while I was paying more attention to quiet mischief, I was learning. I was actually doing more than just learning. I was being shaped by what I was receiving through a kind of spiritual osmosis. I have come to the conclusion over the years that more soaks in than most of us realize. There is something very positive and very life giving about those hours we spend in the worship services of the church.
Many of us learned the great hymns of the church as our mothers and fathers patiently held a hymn book down low enough for us see while their finger moved along the page showing us where to read. Those hymns I learned way back then from my mother's prompting became so imbedded in my spiritual memory that it often seems I walk around with a hymnbook in my heart. I am grateful as an old worn out Christian that I have such treasures to sustain me for the rest of the journey. I only regret that so many of our young are missing out on this spiritual osmosis which strengthens me on the journey.