Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Unpredictable One

The Southern religious culture in which I was immersed growing up was filled with all night gospel sings, annual Homecoming events with old preachers and dinner on the ground, revivals or protracted meetings as they were called in some places which lasted from Sunday 'til Friday and only ended with the last sinner walking the aisle during the tenth verse of "Just As I Am," Sunday night worship services, and outdoor tent meetings during the hot summer months.
What took me down this memory lane trip was a brightly colored tent sitting on a vacant lot in a nearby town just down from IHOP. The sides of the tent were up and inside could be seen rows of folding chairs and a raised stage up front. Though there was at least one of these tent meetings every year in the town I knew as a teenager, I never went to see firsthand what happened inside. Respectable religious folks did not go, but looking back, I wish I had broken with tradition. Actually, most evenings the music and the preaching was broadcast across town by a public address system that was turned wide open. Sitting on the back steps was sorta like being on the back row.
Human nature causes us to shy away from religious experiences which are new and different. It is true whether we are looking at something as unusual as a tent meeting or as liturgical as imposing ashes on Ash Wednesday. It is a shame. God has a way of being at work in extraordinary ways when we embrace His unpredictable nature.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Conversation

The other night I was out taking care of some end of the day chores and enjoying those moments between the disappearance of the sun and the falling of the darkness. It has come to be a favorite time of the day. As I stood there in the still quietness, I had this conversation with myself. Do you ever have conversations with yourself? I hope so since I hope I am not the only one! I heard myself saying, "Just think of all those evenings you missed. Evening after evening you went into the church building for a meeting while it was still day and came out to find complete darkness. You missed out on so many evenings like this because of your work. There was always work to do and not enough time."
And then, I heard another part of the same self responding. "No, you got it wrong. There was enough time. Every day you have lived had such evenings. It is not about not having enough time. It never was. It is about choices. You chose something else." Sometimes I do not like these conversations with myself.
I was aware in the aftermath of the personal conversation how much I am stuck on that verse about "...making the most of the time." I know I stayed busy while working all those years, but lately I find myself wondering if I really made the most of the time given to me by the Creator. I am not so sure staying busy qualifies as a "Yes."

Sunday, March 25, 2012


I have been wearing corrective lens since the eye exam at Chatham Junior High School in Savannah. Prior to that moment of being found out, I knew I was not seeing very well, but no one else had figured it out. So, glasses became a way of life until I started wearing contacts just before I reached age forty. Those who wear contacts know they can be a little tricky at times. The lenses can become dry and scratchy resulting in less than the perfect vision they are supposed to provide.
As I was leading worship this morning at Rocky Ford, I was wrestling with dry contacts that were giving blurred vision at best. A good squirt of saline solution would have helped, but it is not exactly something found in most pulpits. Fortunately, the hymns were familiar enough I did not need to depend on the blurred printed page. As I prepared the congregation for the pastoral prayer, I opened my Bible on the pulpit so that it would be ready for reading after the prayer. Then, as folks do, I closed my eyes and prayed. Sunday morning pastoral prayers are not as easy as they look. My kids often said they were too long. Most of the time they are too predictable.
Anyway, the order of worship said, "Pray," so I prayed. When I finished with the traditional "Amen" and opened my eyes, I was looking down at the open Bible on the pulpit. My vision was perfectly clear. The words seemed to be in bold large print. It was as if I had not been having any trouble seeing. My first thought at that moment was: "Prayer changes the way you see things." I wonder where that came from.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Four Leaf Clovers

My old book collection mainly is composed of pre-1900 religious books. Valuable? Although a few cost more than I should have paid for them, in reality only the book mites would declare them to have value. In some of them I find words which still speak to me as if they were written only yesterday. And some are intriguing because of the sense of mystery they cause me to experience as I hold them in my hands.
"The Office of Holy Week" translated in 1896 from the Italian of Abbe Alexander Mazzinelli is one such book. It has four leaf clovers tucked away in its pages. No less than five of them are still intact even though they have been dried and preserved for over a hundred years. Someone put them there. The front pages of the book have a name, Miss Mary B. Gillis of 159 Adams Street in Dorchester, Massachusetts. I wonder if she hid them within the pages. I wonder who she was. I wonder if she used the book often. I wonder what happened to it after her passing passed it on to other hands. I wonder....
To hold in my hands something which was used by another on their journey toward God makes it a thing of great value. I am only one of an unknown number who have read from those pages and closed the book with an awareness of encountering the Holy One. I would never write my name beside hers. I am content to simply be another sojourner whom it has been pointed toward God.

Friday, March 23, 2012

From 1896

During this Lenten season I have found myself using an unusual source for devotional time. Two things make it unusual. First, it comes from my old book collection and is dated 1896. Secondly, entitled, "The Office of Holy Week," it comes out of the Roman Catholic tradition. From Palm Sunday to Easter the small volume consists of services and readings in both Latin and English. There are also brief explanations and commentaries along the way.
One word of interpretation reads: "Church history and the holy Fathers tell us how the primitive Christians conducted themselves...Penance was imposed at the beginning of Lent on such penitents as were to be reconciled at Easter. It was proper that they should long bewail their crimes, and covered with confusion, clothed in sackcloth and ashes, pass through the sorrowful stages of penance, before being admitted at Easter to the communion of the divine mysteries.. Thus Lent came to be observed." And then from 1896 there comes a word which could have been written yesterday. "The majority of the faithful have greatly degenerated from their first fervor..."
These words written so long ago provide much reflection for the present moment. Our observance of Lent seems to be a kinder, softer, more gentle thing which, perhaps, speaks of the way our culture calls us to compromise the sin in us instead of being mortified by it. We have substituted the confirmands for the penitents. Too many of us come to Easter more conscious of how we are appearing to one another instead of how our hearts must appear to God. We no longer see the penitents around us even though we see those in need of penance as we check ourselves out in the mirror.