The Practice of Lent

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I have been contemplating Lent recently.
Lent
I am still fairly new to the practice of Lent, but it seems healthy in our spiritual lives to have a time each year when we examine the deepest places of ourselves.
Lent is a time of practicing our dependence on God by giving up something we are dependent on that is not-God.
Lent is a time of being alone and quiet in order to search out the deepest places of ourselves that we are still keeping back from God.
Lent is a time to give those places back to God so that He can heal them and make them whole.
silence
I don’t yet know what Lent will look like for me this year.
I have been asking God how He wants me to die to myself during this season of Lent so that I can more fully be alive with Him when Easter arrives.
As much as I am tempted to try, we cannot skip over death and straight into resurrection glory.
I have been trying to listen to God during my times of silence and solitude with Him.
I have not yet heard any answers.
Perhaps it is because I am still so new to this practice.
Perhaps it is because He doesn’t have an answer for me.
Often He leaves the decision up to us.
dying to self
Lent is also a time of looking straight into the face of death itself,
and seeing that, after all we have been through,
after all this world has to throw at us,
after all of the screaming and crying and groaning and God where in this hell are You,
 God is still with us.
He is still Emmanuel.
Emmanuel
He is still the One who came to us and died a gruesome death for us so that He could be with us forever.
He is the God of Lent and the God of Easter, and we cannot reach the one without suffering through the other.
So will you consider Lent with me?
contemplating Lent
Lent begins on March 6 with Ash Wednesday.
Take some time in the quiet before then and ask God how He wants you to practice this season of Lent.
And then be still and listen.
Maybe you will hear something.
Maybe you won’t.
Either way, you are beginning the work of dying to yourself so that by His grace you can live more fully and abundantly with Him.
IMG_0314
If it would be of help to you, attached to this post are two links to a devotion that I have written for this season of Lent, one for the PDF version and one for the online version. It will take you through Ash Wednesday, the six Sundays of Lent, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.
Take it and may God bless you through it.
You can download the PDF version by clicking here.
You can access the online version by clicking here.

Art credits: all photographs copyright Made Sacred 2019

Clothed in Goodness

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We are good.
good
Not due to anything inherent in ourselves,
but good because God proclaimed it over us.
Left to ourselves we are a mass of ugliness and evil.
Full of selfishness and pride, we wallow in our muck and call it good.
Yet while we were still ragged, filthy,
God spoke.
And we were good.
God's goodness
clothed in goodness
Words have power.
Especially God’s words.
God’s Word flows from His mouth to water the ground and grow the seed.
It will not return to Him void.
God spoke and it is so.
Julian of Norwich, a fourteenth century mystic, said that we must discover that “we are clothed in God’s goodness.”
We are lovely because God loves us.
lovely
God's loveliness
Both sides of this matter.
It matters that our goodness comes from God.
Otherwise we might adore ourselves.
It matters that we are clothed in God’s goodness.
Otherwise we might despise ourselves.
clothed in God
When we submerge ourselves in the fullness of this truth for long enough,
God’s love spills over
and makes everything lovely.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining ’till He appeared and the soul felt its worth
The worth that was declared by God from the beginning.
He saw all that He had made and behold, it was very good.
delight
God's delight
We are good because God made us.
We are lovely because He loves us.
God delights in us.
We must steep ourselves in this.
Because once we believe this?
Believe it in the deepest places of ourselves?
We will naturally delight in all those around us.
And they will be more lovely for having tasted our God-delight.
good
We breathe in the spirit that delights in our being – the fragrance of it. And it works on us. Then we exhale (for that breath has to go somewhere) – to breathe into the world this same spirit of delight. ~ Gregory Boyle in Tattoos on the Heart

Art credits: final photograph by Kirk Sewell; all other photographs copyright Made Sacred 2019

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Fear Into Faith

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Fear.
fear
It creeps in everywhere and is so hard to banish.
There is much to fear in this broken world of ours.
Fear is, at its root, the failure to believe God.
We don’t truly believe that He will take care of us, that He wants what is best for us, and so we are afraid.
There is much fear in the gospels.
The disciples fear the storms on the sea, fear the hungry crowds, fear the strange suffering of which Jesus keeps speaking.
In Mark’s gospel the opposite of faith is not unbelief but fear. ~ Bonnie B. Thurston in The Spiritual Landscape of Mark
fear
I recently was afraid.
We are still paying off medical bills from last year, and suddenly both of our cars needed work done and were not driveable.
At the same time.
Immediately I felt the fear creeping in.
How will we take the girls places? With four children, we don’t all fit in just any kind of vehicle! How will we pay for it all?
Often, I confess, I give in to the fear.
This time, however, God gave me the grace to resist.
My husband and I continued to tithe.
The night our vehicles broke down I spoke with my girls about God as our Provider, about the promises He made to always take care of us, about the ways He has provided in the past.
Our Bible story that evening happened to be the story of the loaves and the fish.
The story that happens in the desert.
With no natural food sources to be found.
Where God provides enough.
And more than enough.
That same night I received a text from my parents.
Five days previously, they had decided, for no particular reason, to give a monetary gift to each of their children.
Five days previously.
I fell to my knees in gratitude.
God our provider.
The next morning I got to gather my girls into my arms and tell them that even before we knew we needed it,
God provided.
fear
Fear is everywhere.
The circumstances that produce the feelings of fear are constant.
Will we choose to dwell in that fear, allowing thoughts of worry and anxiety to win?
Or will we choose to push them out with reminders of the character of God, the times He has cared for us in the past, the stories in Scripture of His care for His beloved?
Will we choose to believe?
There is much fear in the gospels.
The gospel of Mark, in fact, ends in fear.
Mark ends with an empty tomb, a message from an angel, and three women who say nothing “for they were afraid.”
I am those women.
More often than not I give in to my fear rather than choosing to believe.
Mark lets me know that God is gentle with my fear, wanting to comfort rather than chastise me.
We do, after all, still live in this broken world, in this space before the restoration of all things.
This is where we live: after the resurrection but before the Return, entrusted with a message that is wonderful, but the import of which we don’t quite understand. ~ Bonnie B. Thurston in The Spiritual Landscape of Mark
Mark gives me hope.
faith
Hope that God is gentle with my fear, that He still entrusts me His message.
Hope that He will not give up on me but will continue to change my fear into faith.

Art credits: photographs of storms by Kirk Sewell; Jesus and His Disciples on the Sea of Galilee from The Story of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation; Jesus Walks on the Sea by Gustave Dore

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The River of Worship

We do not swim in a pond every Sunday.
pond worship
The activities we do in church, the liturgies in which we participate, are not simply a splashing around in a pond.
We do not climb back out as we walk out the doors into the world.
Whether you stand or kneel, pray from the Book of Common Prayer or spontaneously lift your hands, worship is not meant to be contained in a building.
pond worship
The weekly liturgies of the Church are, instead, a rushing river that refreshes us, sustains us, nourishes us,
and then carries us out the doors into the world.
river worship
What happens in our church services should be a communal expression of our individual daily lives, not a break from them.
The praise within the music should be pouring from our lives.
The remembrance of the Eucharist should permeate our days.
The immersion in the Scriptures should suffuse our every activity.
We were created to worship.
We will worship, whether purposefully or not, so shouldn’t we be intentional about allowing our Sunday worship to flood our lives, spilling over into the rest of our piece of the world?
river worship
The foyers of our churches are not walls, keeping the world at bay.
The narthex should be a door.
A door that opens wide, allowing the rushing river of worship to sweep us out to a world that is dying of thirst.
Our world is bone-dry and cottonmouthed, desperate for a thirst-quenching drink of living water.
Who else can give that to them other than those who weekly are immersed in the river of worship?
We must allow our Sunday ventures to send us out to the world all around rather than splashing around in our shallow pond, experiencing only a brief time of refreshment before climbing back out to reenter our regular lives.
pond worship
Our world depends upon the river of life that flows through the Body of Christ.
Our own lives depend upon that river to flourish.
river worship
A pond, after all, often becomes stagnant.

Art credits: all photographs are by Kirk Sewell

Moments

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Moments

All that we live splinters into moments
Moments of grace
Moments of beauty
Moments of mercy
For which we give thanks.
Moments of grace when we deserve nothing
Sweet fat dimpled hands reach up for a kiss
Wrinkled shaky fingers caress my cheek
Strong hand holds mine all covered with prayer.
Moments of light, of color, of beauty
Dancing of fireflies below with streaks of electricity above
Colors of sky and sun filter down through red and gold
Sounds of water dancing, sparkling, rushing, chasing.
Moments of mercy given at just the right time
Delight of child when sister gives a gift
Food brought when time and energy is spent
A whisper brings knowledge of love from the divine
Our splintering moments rush together as one
Grace, beauty, mercy all show us His love
Even in darkness I can open my eyes
To all these and more and give thanks to our Lord.
snow on flowers

edited from the archives

Theology Is Not a Dirty Word

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There is always a reason behind our actions.
Whether or not we realize it, the way we view God affects what we do and how we do it.
theology
Even if we never explore the beliefs behind our actions, we all believe something about God and the world and it is this belief that comes out in our behavior.
theology
theology
It is precisely because our beliefs dictate what we do that makes it so vital to explore those convictions.
Part of loving God with all of our mind, after all, means being deliberate about what we believe, knowing why we believe it. We all want our actions to be based on truth.
theology
theology
Enter theology.
It is a dirty word in some Christian circles. Some believe that it takes away the joy or emotion of loving God. Others think that theology does nothing but stir up trouble and break up churches. Still others suppose that theology moves away from Scripture, that it creates something that wasn’t there before.
Yet you already have a theology. You have already read Scripture and interpreted it and let what you believe it teaches you about God influence the way you live.
Wouldn’t you rather your theology be one you have prayerfully and thoughtfully considered rather than one that just evolved without conscious decision in your mind over time?
theology
Paul, I believe, was the first theologian. He used his knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures along with his knowledge of Jesus to write some of the first doctrines of the Church. Certainly no one would have accused him of not knowing what he believed or why he believed it.
Theology is what brought us the teaching of the Trinity. The word Trinity is not found anywhere in the Bible, yet by taking such Scriptures as the Shema, Christ’s own claims, and the teachings on the Spirit in the epistles, Church theologians have come up with the doctrine of the Trinity that we all know.
We all want to love God the best we can. We all want our actions to be based on truth. To do this, we all need to evaluate our own beliefs about God with the help of Scripture and what historically the Church has confessed.
Make sure that what comes out in your life, your words and thoughts and actions, is based on well-thought-out theology, not just-what-I-grew-up-thinking theology.
Let’s do our best to know why we do the things we do. Let’s do our best to be sure our actions are based on truth.
Let us love God with all of our mind.

credit: Thanks to Todd Daly for many of the ideas contained in this post.

edited from the archives

all photographs are copyright 2019 Made Sacred

The Slow Work of God

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

When it comes to the things of God, I am impatient.
While I am certainly not immune to this problem in other realms, I am not particularly plagued with it.
Except when it comes to God.
impatience
I grow so weary of waiting for God to fulfill His promise to transform me into the image of Jesus:
I want to quit fighting my pride and my anger and my jealousy.
I want to stop saying the wrong thing to my husband, yelling at my children, hiding from others out of fear.
hurry
restless
I am easily frustrated when God is not maturing the hearts of my children as quickly as I might wish.
When they do not mature in the way and at the speed I think best, I grow anxious and worried, even irritated.
anxious
I am in a hurry for some that I love to decide to pursue God wholeheartedly rather than to continue on lukewarmly.
slow
I often want to “fix” things, to see signs of “progress” before continuing on the path to which I believe God has called me.
slow work
I recently read a phrase that has hushed me like a child. Teilhard de Chardin writes of trusting in “the slow work of God”.
The slow work of God.
slow work of God
The very words soothe my spirit, calm my impatience.
Ours is a God who waits. Who are we not to? It takes what it takes for the great turnaround. Wait for it. ~ Gregory Boyle in Tattoos on the Heart
Who am I that I should be the one who hurries God? Who am I that I should get to skip past the waiting?
Am I better than Moses, waiting for forty years in Midian? Am I more privileged than David, waiting for fifteen years to fulfill his anointing?
Ours is a God who waits. Who am I not to?
wait
In my impatience, I could easily abandon the slow work of God.
God forbid that I should miss any work of His.
Especially the slow kind.
Wait for it.

all photographs copyright Made Sacred 2019

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One Another

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

There is much suffering in this world.
suffering
There is much pain.
It is one thing that connects us all, a piece of what it means to be human.
Sometimes the sheer force of it all is enough to sink me.
And yet.
one another
Recently I was struck deeply by the idea that we could be a part of someone’s healing simply by being willing to bear their suffering through compassion.
In compassion, one may carry the sin and suffering of others in such a way that they may be restored to wholeness precisely because their sin and suffering are borne. ~ Andrew Purves
Compassion often involves great personal cost as we become involved with another.
Perhaps we could go so far as to say that compassion requires suffering.
Why not?
This kind of suffering, this level of involvement incurring great personal cost, is precisely the kind of suffering that Jesus bore on our behalf.
compassion
If our goal, our telos, is to become like Jesus, to live a life like His, than we should not be surprised that our lives should involve suffering, specifically compassionate suffering.
Jesus’s suffering is the method of our healing.
Jesus suffers with the world in order to heal it.
healing
What is surprising, the truth I want to ponder more, is the idea that our suffering, like His, could be the means by which another could be healed.
Perhaps this should not be startling.
If we are, as Paul writes to the Corinthians, to be the body of Christ, to be His hands and His feet,
if we are to care for one another as we would care for our own body,
perhaps we should instead expect to be able to do what He did.
one another
Perhaps we should be even more willing to take on the suffering of others, as Jesus did for us, because we know that in so doing, we will be given a part in restoring them to wholeness.
One person at a time, as we are lead by the Holy Spirit,
perhaps we can begin to heal the whole world.

Art credits: The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise by Benjamin West; The Palsied Man Let Down Through the Roof by James Tissot; The Three Crosses by Rembrandt; Pietà by Michelangelo

Mostly There Is Nothing…and Yet

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O, God
I thirst for You.
silence
I am learning to listen,
to sit in silence and to wait.
solitude
I mostly come away disappointed
and yet…
I mostly come away without a word
and yet…
I mostly come away feeling a failure
and yet…
And yet my thirst is growing.
I am learning to listen,
to sit in silence and to wait.
waiting
I strain to know Your thoughts, but mostly my own still swarm like a plague of gnats
and yet…
I seek to hear Your words, but mostly my own still darken my way
and yet…
I long to comprehend Your desires and plans, but mostly my own still lead me astray
and yet…
And yet my thirst is mounting.
I am learning to listen,
to sit in silence and to wait.
listen
Outwardly nothing changes.
There is no voice from heaven.
There is no flood of emotion.
There is no flash of understanding.
And yet…
Inwardly something is stirring.
Nothing grand,
nothing immense,
only the beginnings of a something is stirring.
Mostly there is nothing
and yet…
And yet my thirst is rising.
I am learning to listen,
to sit in silence and to wait.
thirst
 I thirst for You.
Oh, God.

all photographs copyright 2019 Made Sacred

Isn’t That Just Like God?

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There is darkness in our world this Christmas.
advent
waiting
The news is currently full of war in Syria, a persecuted church in China, scandal at home.
There is, to be awkwardly transparent, darkness in my own self this Christmas.
be still
This has been a difficult year, full of the sorts of occurrences that God often uses to sanctify.
Deaths.
Medical troubles.
Bills resulting from the above.
Sanctification hurts.
darkness
As I sit in the darkness, in the stillness, in the waiting that is Advent,
sometimes I don’t want to be sanctified.
Sometimes I desire comfort and more than enough more than I desire to look like Jesus.
When we give our lives to God, He takes us at our word.
All that God desires for us comes steadily on, even when we sometimes would simply rather be left alone.
We think we know what we want.
We think we know what we need.
We think we know what to do to get it.
Especially at Christmas, we think that if we don’t do it, if we settle into the waiting and be still, it won’t get done, whatever it is.
advent waiting
Then God comes down into our darkness and asks us to see ourselves as we truly are:
empty-handed, powerless, dependent on One who refuses to leave us to our own devices.
This is often the way God loves us: with gifts we thought we didn’t need, which transform us into people we don’t necessarily want to be. ~ William Willimon
All of creation groans for redemption.
We are a people walking in darkness,
a people living in a land of great darkness.
we need a light
We are desperate for light, desperate for rescue, and God, in His great mercy, gives us

 

a baby.
We need a baby
Isn’t that just like God?

All photos copyright Made Sacred 2018