wakingup

Dum dum dum da da dum da dum de dum dum
Dum dum dum da da dum da dum de dum dum
Dum dum dum da da dum da dum de dum dum

Wait for it…

Dum dum dum da da dum da dum de dum dum

That’s my alarm.

Every. Morning.

The thing about alarm clocks is they tell us that it’s time to wake up. But if you’re like me, you don’t want to wake up. Waking up means work, phone calls, emails, paying bills, balancing check books, balancing demands…it means I have to be an adult.

And I don’t want to be an adult.

But, I get up anyway.

And I stumble downstairs.

And I make coffee.

Coffee. Pure, sweet, nectar of the gods.

Now the process of making coffee is far from genteel. First, a living coffee bean, totally minding its own business, is plucked from the tree. Killed in the prime of its life. But it’s not enough that the bean has to die. It’s then roasted over an open flame, ground to a fine powder and stuffed into an airtight container for shipping to God knows where. To add insult to injury, I take this finely ground powder and scald it with boiling water. Then after extracting every bit of flavor, I dump what’s remaining into the trash.

Next, I make toast. In an equally gruesome process, a nice, soft, fresh piece of bread is held to within an inch of glowing hot electrodes. Burnt to a crisp.

When you think about it, I break five articles of the Geneva Convention every morning before I even take a shower.

Sleep becomes awake.
Coffee beans become coffee.
Bread becomes toast.

There are several immutable laws of nature. And one of them is change.

Change.

It happens to the best of us.

It happens to all of us.

It happens all the time.

Some changes are small, with little to no lasting impact. We change clothes, we change the channel, we change directions, we change our mind.

Some changes are large, with impacts that affect our lives for years to come. We change jobs, we sell our homes, lives are lost, and relationships end.

Changing jobs means saying goodbye. Moving means, packing, and cleaning, and apparently buying fluffy pillows (more on this one later). At the end of a relationship, there is loss. Death.

Change, even when it’s for the best, almost always requires an element of pain.

Whatever the reason for the change, we find ourselves in a new situation. The way we have defined ourselves for so long, no longer applies.

Change, even when it’s for the best, is disorienting and confusing.

A butterfly, after experiencing metamorphosis and breaking free of its cocoon, on it’s maiden flight must look down at the ground below and say, “Holy crap, that’s a long way down.”

There’s a New Testament story of a Jewish rabbi named Saul. Saul is zealous in his desire to wipe out the followers of Christ. After receiving letters of introduction in Jerusalem to the synagogues in Damascus, Paul sets out to arrest the Christians and bring them back for trial. Along the way, Saul experiences a divine presence in the form of a bright light and a voice from heaven saying “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” When Saul asks who is speaking to him, the voice replies, “I am Jesus.”

Saul is stricken with blindness and led to Damascus where he fasts for three days. After this time a man named Ananias is told by God to find Saul, heal his blindness and baptize him. Saul becomes Paul and goes on the preach the message of Jesus for the rest of his life. Eventually Paul even writes 13 of the letters that make up the books of the New Testament.

Saul felt pain. Saul felt disorientation. Saul experienced change.

The manifestation of God in a way tangible to the human senses is referred to as a theophany.

Have you ever experienced a change so painful, so all encompassing, so disorienting that you cried out to God for relief? Have you ever asked, “why did this have to happen to me?” Or, “how can I possibly get through this?”

Have you ever asked, “where ARE you God?”

If so, you aren’t alone. Even Jesus, in his death on the cross cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Jesus wanted a theophany.

But it didn’t come.

Too many times in our lives we long for answers or relief.

Why is this change happening?

Why, even if I have initiated this change, does it have to be so painful and disorienting?

I don’t know.

I do know that you aren’t alone. God is there. God is there in the phone calls from your family and the support of a friend. God is there in the love you share every day.

Look around. Do you know someone that is experiencing a season of change? Be there for them. Listen. Hold their hand. Give them the space they need for their own metamorphosis.

Change. It happens. It’s painful. Don’t be alarmed (pun intended) when it is. It only means you are in the process of waking up to something new, and strong, and beautiful.

Like coffee.

Dum dum dum da da dum da dum de dum dum
Dum dum dum da da dum da dum de dum dum
Dum dum dum da da dum da dum de dum dum

God Stuff

Sitting Shiva

sittingshiva

There’s an ancient Jewish ritual, dating back to even before the time of Noah called shiva. Shiva is the Hebrew word for seven, and in this context refers to a seven day period of mourning following the death of an immediate family member.

Often this time of mourning is referred to as sitting shiva due to the fact that the mourner customarily sits on low stools or boxes. While it isn’t know exactly where this practice began, Job 2:13 is often cited. In this passage, Job’s friends come to comfort him by sitting on the ground beside him for seven days and nights.

Other customs include covering of mirrors, not shaving or wearing makeup or the burning of a candle. All of these customs are intended to reinforce the fact that this is a special time. A time set aside for the purpose of grieving.

Most of us living in the busy modern world see mourning as a nuisance. It’s something to be done as quickly and as privately as possible. It’s a weakness. It’s a distraction that prevents us from moving forward with our lives.

Shiva says that isn’t true.

To sit shiva is to openly express our grief. Showing sorrow is encouraged.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross divided grief into five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. An important and essential point of her theory is that no two people grieve the same way. The order of the stages may change, overlap, or a person might not even experience all five stages at all.

Shiva says that is okay.

If you aren’t Jewish, or even religious, the practice of shiva can be important. Because to sit shiva is to acknowledge that a change has taken place. For many of us, THAT is the true struggle. Change is uncomfortable at best and when thrust upon us against our will it can be almost debilitating.

To sit shiva is to acknowledge that a change has occurred, to grieve it, and then finally to get up, walk outside and move forward to a new reality.

It’s a universal truth, for one thing to begin another must end. For one thing to be born another thing often must die. There is change. To have Spring we must first go through Winter. For a tree to be born, a see must fall to the ground and be swallowed up by the Earth. To enjoy a hamburger a cow must…well you get the idea.

So, as we enter 2016, as one year ends and another begins, and with all due respect to my Jewish friends, I will symbolically sit shiva for the things in my life that must die in order for new life to begin.

Constantly beating myself up
Setting unrealistic expectations
Not believing I’m good enough
Fear of failure
Lack of self-esteem
Worry
Doubt

What is it that you need to sit shiva over in your life?

Maybe it’s your job. You go to work every day, but you dread it. It pays the bills, but it’s making you a nervous wreck. You can’t sleep because you hate waking up.

Maybe it’s your church. You go every Sunday but it’s more out of habit than desire.

Maybe it’s a relationship and it’s just not working. You’ve both tried, but it doesn’t bring life, or peace, or health. And you both know it’s time to let go, but you can’t.

Maybe it’s something that started out very good and there was so much promise, but now you’re only hanging on to what you hoped it would be. Not what it is.

Maybe it’s simply the belief that all the mistakes from your past somehow limit your future.

Now is the time to let…it…go. Do it. Let it die. Grieve for it. And then begin the process of moving on.

My friends, there’s freedom in letting go. Because there is something better, just around the corner, just over the horizon, just waiting for you to drop whatever is holding you back. But you can’t take hold of the new thing until you let the old thing die.

This is the power of shiva.

This is the power of the cross.

This is resurrection.

God says, that old thing that’s holding you back…no more. That pattern of destruction in your life…end it. That person place or thing that isn’t bringing you joy and peace and rest…say goodbye and take hold of the new thing that’s waiting just around the corner.

May 2016 be your best year ever.

Shalom.

 

2minutes58seconds

2 minutes and 58 seconds

When I was 8 years old my parents took me to my first concert. It was the Statler Brothers in Cookeville, Tennessee. The Statler Brothers were a country music vocal group founded in 1955. Their founding members were Don and Harold Reid, Phil Balsley and Lew DeWitt. Originally a gospel group, they gained notoriety in the 1960’s as the backing vocal group for Johnny Cash. If you are familiar with any of their songs, it’s probably their biggest hit, Flowers On The Wall for which they won a Grammy award in 1965.

And you are likely over 60 years old.

My dad (and by extension my mom as well) was a huge Statler Brothers fan. When I was a tiny child, he joined the Columbia House Music Club. You know, the one where you could get 10 albums for a penny (provided you agreed to purchase 5 more at inflated prices over the course on the next year.) So, we had Statler Brothers music on 8 Track Tape which we would listen to in our two-tone 1977 Buick Electra. I say two-tone, but really it was brown with and beige vinyl top.

At any rate, my brother and I grew up on Statler Brothers music.

This is probably a good time to say that if you are a fan of Kenny Chesney, Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean or anyone associated with “Bro-Country”, you are likely going to hell and should repent now.*

The Statler Brothers have an album named The Holy Bible, The New Testament. Appearing on this album is a song named Who Do You Think? The lyrics are as follows:

There are people who are whispering
And the rumors are running wild
There’s a woman who’s not married
But she’s gonna have a child

Her name is Mary, she’s a virgin
From down in Nazareth, now listen close
She’s gonna marry a man named Joseph
But the baby’s father is The Holy Ghost

And who do you think could believe such a thing
Could believe that the story is true
And who do you think could believe such a thing
Well, here’s hopin’ to Heaven you do

Now there sayin’ she had a baby
In a barn in Bethlehem
And the stars moved ’round the Heavens
Till it stopped right over them

Then some shepherds said
An Angel came and told them ’bout the birth
They always knew, men went to Heaven
But now God had come to Earth

And who do you think could believe such a thing
Could believe that the story is true
And who do you think could believe such a thing
Well, here’s hopin’ to Heaven you do

THIS is my favorite Christmas song. It really isn’t Christmas until I hear this song.

In 1975, when the Statler Brothers sat down to write Who Do You Think? they had no idea that two young parents would years later play this album for their children. The parents had no idea that their child would look forward to hearing the song every Christmas.

This song, a simple song about the birth of Jesus, has become my favorite holiday tradition. For me, it is Christmas. For me, it is the gospel. And the good news is that whether or not you believe any of it, this story is still important. Because this is a story about getting involved.
…sacrifice
…making a difference
…changing the world
…faith
…hope
…love

With whom did you interact with today? To whom did you extend a word of kindness? Sympathy? A helping hand? A smile?

2 minutes and 48 seconds. That’s the length of the song Who Do You Think?

To someone you love, 2 minutes and 48 seconds could make all the difference in the world. May you use it wisely.

Here’s hopin’ to Heaven you do.

Merry Christmas.

*This is not a Biblical fact, just a gut feeling. Repent now. Better safe than sorry.

 

Cayenne

I’ve said it before. I love coffee. I love its smell. I love its taste. And while I’m quickly becoming something of a coffee snob, I do like a Caramel Macchiato or Pumpkin Spice Latte as much as the next person. In fact, I was recently introduced to my new favorite coffee drink…the Mexican Mocha.

The Mexican Mocha is a typical café mocha (espresso, steamed milk and chocolate) with the addition of cinnamon and Cayenne pepper. It burns on the way down, but that’s what is so awesome about it. It’s coffee with a kick.

Now the coffee shop where I get my Mexican Mocha is 20 minutes away from my house and they charge $4 per cup, so I started experimenting with the ingredients to try and make my own version at home.

I’d pour a cup of coffee, add some sugar, add some milk, stir in some chocolate and shake in a good amount of cinnamon. When it comes to the Cayenne pepper however, I’d get really nervous. Frankly, a little Cayenne goes a long way. I mean, there’s a fine line between spicy and painful. So, somewhat naturally I guess, I’d never put enough Cayenne pepper in my drink. Finally, one day I just went for it, threw caution to the wind, and shook that little Cayenne pepper shaker for all it was worth.

From this experience I developed a philosophy.

Life is a Mexican Mocha. Don’t fear the Cayenne.

You see, for a Mexican Mocha to be a Mexican Mocha I had to let it burn.

Without the full amount of cayenne, it’s just a sweet, chocolaty cup of coffee. And yes, there is always the chance that I’ll put too much Cayenne in there one day. It may be somewhat painful. But without the risk, there is no reward.

There is a scale for measuring the amount of spice in a pepper called the Scoville scale. It was developed in 1912 by American pharmacist Wilbur Scoville. Basically, a dried pepper is dissolved in alcohol to extract the heat components, then diluted in sugar water. The extract is tasted by a panel of trained testers. The level of heat is then ranked in Scoville Heat Units.

A cayenne pepper has a rating of approximately 40,000 SHUs. But it is not nearly the hottest pepper in the world. In 2007 the Guinness Book Of World Records certified the bih jolokia (known more affectionately as the ghost pepper) as the hottest pepper in the world at roughly 1,000,000 SHUs. In 2011 the Infinity Chili pepper took over as hottest but was quickly surpassed by the Naga Viper pepper. Then in 2012 the Trinidad moruga scorpion claimed the title only to be bested in 2013 by the current record holder the Carolina Reaper which clocks in at an amazing 1,569,300 SHUs.

So, while it’s possible to get a bit too much Cayenne in my Mexican Mocha, it’s never going to be as painful as a coffee mixed with ghost pepper.

Do fear the Carolina Reaper.

All of this begs the question, what is the Scoville scale in your life?

If you’re like most people, you carry around a ton of baggage. We’ve all been hurt or been through painful experiences. Sometimes we carry those memories around with us for the rest of our lives. Someone we cared about hurt us. A spouse betrayed a trust. A business associate lied. He didn’t remember my birthday. She was unkind. We felt let down. Wronged. Forgotten. Abused.

Often the very people we love the most have the ability to hurt us the most. And really, that makes sense doesn’t it? Because love is the radical act of opening up our heart to someone. It’s exposing all of ourselves to them, the good and the bad and asking them to accept us for who we are.

Love is an extra few shakes of Cayenne in our coffee.

If you’ve ever been to a wedding, you’re probably familiar with 1 Corinthians 13. For most people, it’s the go-to definition of love.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

Love keeps no record of wrongs.

Love has no Scoville scale for the pain in our lives.

Love doesn’t keep some mental list of all the things they said or didn’t say, ready to play them back at will. Love forgives…and forgets…and moves on. Love is reconciliation.

This is of course, in a healthy relationship. In a healthy relationship, people forget to take out the trash, make an unkind remark, or generally make a fool of themselves. Then the two parties talk, and apologize, they make amends and move on with their lives. But what about unhealthy relationships? What about people who are dangerous and toxic?

Proverbs 26:11 says,

Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly.

Some people are abusive and manipulative. They take you on massive guilt trips. If you let them, they will hurt you again and again. They will return to their vomit over and over and you don’t have to be there when they do.

You don’t.

Jesus says, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Sometimes forgiving isn’t always forgetting, is it? Sometimes in order to honor the beautiful creation of God that you are, you have to set up some boundaries. Maybe you agree that there are topics you just won’t speak about. Maybe you have to limit your time together. Or maybe you have to walk away. Some people you can only love from a distance.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

*****

Love, like life, is meant to be experienced fully in all its complexity, all its flavor, all its joy and even all its pain. May you find those people and places in your life where its safe to be yourself, fully invested and fully alive. A place where there is no record of wrongs. No Scoville scale of pain. A place of peace, and hope, and a life lived with more than a bit of reckless abandon.

Love is a Mexican Mocha. Don’t fear the Cayenne.

God Stuff

A Leap of Faith

LeapofFaith

Sometimes, when I’m in need of deep spiritual guidance, I turn to the source of all wisdom.

The scriptures?

Google?

No. I’m talking about classic movie quotes.

In the (admittedly uneven) 2013 movie Man of Steel, Clark Kent (a.k.a. Kal-El, a.k.a. Superman) has just learned that a General Zod from his birth planet has come to Earth with an ultimatum. He has 24 hours to turn himself in or mankind will face the consequences. Clark seeks guidance from a local priest. What should he do?

Father Leone: What’s on your mind?
Clark Kent: I don’t know where to start.
Father Leone: Wherever you want.
Clark Kent: That ship that appeared last night, I’m the one they’re looking for.
Father Leone: Do you know… why they want you?
Clark Kent: No, but this General Zod… even if I surrender, there’s no guarantee he’ll keep his word. But if there’s a chance I can save Earth by turning myself in, shouldn’t I take it?
Father Leone: What does your gut tell you?
Clark Kent: Zod can’t be trusted. The problem is, I’m not sure the people of Earth can be either.
Father Leone: Sometimes, you have to take a leap of faith first. The trust part comes later.

Sometimes, you have to take a leap of faith.

In the Bible there is a man called Moses. Moses was born a Jew but raised by Pharaoh’s daughter in Egypt. Moses becomes exiled from Egypt and is living in a land called Midian. One day while out for a walk, he sees a burning bush. God calls out to Moses from the bush. He tells Moses to go back to Egypt, speak to the Pharaoh and free the Jewish people from slavery.

Moses wants no part of this and makes every excuse he can think of to avoid it.

“What if they don’t believe me?” God gives him a magic staff and cloak. “I’m slow of speech and tongue.” God says, “I will help you speak.”

Moses is still afraid and pleads for God to send someone else. God finally agrees to let his brother Aaron speak for him.

Fear.

In the movie Return of the Jedi, Luke Skywalker has returned to Yoda to complete his training.

Yoda: No more training do you require. Already know you, that which you need.
Luke: Then I am a Jedi.
Yoda: No. Not yet. One thing remains. Vader. You must confront Vader. Then, only then, a Jedi will you be. And confront him you will.

Trials.

In the book of Mark, Jesus meets a man that has since become known as The Rich Young Ruler. The man falls down before Jesus and asks what must he do to inherit eternal life? Jesus lists the commandments of God and the man declares “Teacher, all of these I have kept from my youth.” So Jesus says, “You lack one thing: go and sell all your possessions and give them to the poor. Then come and follow me.” But the man was disheartened and went away sorrowful.

Now some would say this is about money. Really though, hadn’t his whole life had been about being in control? He wanted to know what he could do to earn eternal life. In his mind, who he was was defined by what he was.

Control.

In the movie City Slickers, Mitch (played by Billy Crystal) has gone with two of his friends to spend a week on a Dude Ranch. He hopes that by going there he’ll be refreshed, find what he deems to be missing from his life, and return a better man. Of course, nothing really goes like he’d planned. One day while out on a cattle drive, Mitch seeks the advice of a grizzled veteran cowboy named Curly (played by Jack Palance).

Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is?
Curly: This. [holds up one finger]
Mitch: Your finger?
Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean shit.
Mitch: But what is the “one thing?”
Curly: That’s what you have to find out.

What is the one thing in your life?

In the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Butch and Sundance find themselves pursued by a posse of talented and persistent bounty hunters. They try every trick to elude them until they finally find themselves trapped on a cliff overlooking a deep ravine. At the bottom of the ravine is a raging river. There is nowhere else to run. They are impossibly outnumbered. A gunfight would be sure death. But Butch has a plan.

Butch Cassidy: Alright. I’ll jump first.
Sundance Kid: No.
Butch Cassidy: Then you jump first.
Sundance Kid: No, I said.
Butch Cassidy: What’s the matter with you?
Sundance Kid: I can’t swim.
Butch Cassidy: Are you crazy? The fall will probably kill you.
Sundance Kid: Oh, shit…

Where do you find yourself? What are you afraid of? Failure? The loss of control? Rejection? Fear is a powerful emotion. It’s paralyzing. It’s blinding. You feel trapped.

Fear not, says the Lord, for I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

May you see that the Lord is at work in your life. May you see that He has already given you all that you need. May you find somebody to speak the words of God when you are unable. May you find the courage to lose control. May that which has defined you not no longer confine you. May you trust that God has something greater in mind. And until you are ready to trust, may you take a leap of faith.

God Stuff

Sine Language

SineLanguage

At one point, I considered myself to be a fairly intelligent human being….this was before I took physics.

You see, physics has a language unto its own, with words you’ll not hear anywhere else. Words like:

Absorptance
Adiabatic
Angstrom
Baryon
Capacitance
Cyclotron
Diffraction
Dioptre
Faraday

…and we’re only up to the letter F.

To understand, communicate, and function in the world of physics, you have to speak the language of physics.

Take for instance the Sine Wave.

The sine wave or sinusoid is a mathematical curve that describes a smooth repetitive oscillation. It is named after the function sine, of which it is the graph. It occurs often in pure and applied mathematics, as well as physics, engineering, signal processing and many other fields.*

Simple right?

Perhaps this illustration will help.

SineWaveIllus

 

Scientists will tell you there are three main types of waves, longitudinal waves, transverse waves and surface waves. Think of these different types of waves as sound waves moving through the air, a Slinky or ripples on a pond.

Whatever the type of wave, they all move energy. They all have a pattern. They all have a rhythm.

If you are a mathmetician, you should probably stop reading now. We’re about to very UNtechnical.

Someone asked me recently if God still speaks to us today. I replied, “yes, of course. The problem is to understand what He’s saying.”

God speaks in Sine Language.

Think of your own life. There’s a rhythm isn’t there?

Ups and downs.
Highs and lows.
Good and bad.

It’s the same in nature.
Day and night.
Seasons.
Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall.
Death and rebirth.
Patterns.

Rhythms.

Gustave Flaubert noticed this and recorded it in his novella, November.

“I tried to discover, in the rumor of forests and waves, words that other men could not hear, and I pricked up my ears to listen to the revelation of their harmony.”

There is a rhythm in nature. There is a rhythm in our lives.

Some people have developed a name for this rhythm.

God.

How do we learn to speak Sine Language?

St. Ignatius Loyola spoke about a “Third Method of Praying,” done “according to rhythmic measures.” You concentrate on a single word while breathing in and out. That one word is said between one breath and another. In other words, we enter into the rhythm through prayer.

Another spiritual exercise credited to St. Ignatius is The Prayer of Examen. Primarily an exercise in remembering, one is invited to concentrate on experiences and encounters from the past day.

Or maybe it’s as simple as journaling. Recording your daily thoughts and activities. Over time you may see the patterns and rhythms that develop.

Now, the problem with this God rhythm is that often it’s hard to hear, much less understand. And sometimes it feels like there is no rhythm at all. It’s as if we are constantly in the trough.

Maybe you are in the trough right now? Maybe the waves are crashing down on you? Maybe the idea of speaking to God is the last thing on your mind? Are you are battling disease? Has a relationship failed to work out the way you hoped? Are you are struggling beyond what you can bear? Maybe the idea of speaking to God isn’t even on your radar and just making it through the day seems like an accomplishment. If that’s the case then all I can say is, “I’m sorry.”

I don’t know why this is happening. You don’t deserve it. It isn’t fair.

If you feel like life is crashing down upon you, it’s important to remember one thing. Consider it a mantra. A motto to live by.

This is a wave.

Waves are rough. They are powerful. They can be very destructive. But waves, like seasons, like nighttime, like all things….

…waves will pass.

They will.

Take a deep breath.

This is a wave.

It will pass.

Deep breath.

This is a wave.

It will pass.

Deep breath.

This is a wave.

It will pass.

My prayer is that you learn to see the patterns in your life. As you learn to speak Sine Language, may you feel the God rhythm all around you. As you enter into that rhythm, may you experience the peace of knowing there is something out there, bigger than yourself, speaking to you every day. And as the waves that crash around you subside, may something beautiful appear.

 

*Source: Wikipedia

 

Flying_Buttresses

I met somebody recently.

Of course, I meet people every day and I’m sure you do too. But some people stand out don’t they? Some people make such an impression that you’ll likely never forget them. Why?

Then just a few weeks ago I climbed to the observation point at the top of a mountain ridge. I spent a few minutes looking out over the valley below. As it grew dark, a thunderstorm was visible in the distance. The wind blew gently. Above me, millions of stars sparkled in the night sky. Some places make such an impression that you’ll likely never forget them. Why?

Gothic architecture (of course I was going there next) is a style popular in the late medieval period beginning in the twelfth century A.D. Some of the most beautiful and famous cathedrals ever created were built during this time.

But the architects had a problem.

Stone.

Stone was the chief building material of the day. And stone is heavy. The steel girders that make today’s modern skyscrapers possible wouldn’t be invented for nearly 800 years. Architects needed to find a way to distribute the weight of the massive stone walls.

So, the flying buttress was born.

With the advent of the flying buttress, the exterior walls of the cathedral could be made more thin and considerably taller. No longer were churches dark and cramped. Now huge spacious interiors were lit with the light from enormous stained glass windows.

In short, the flying buttress is the support structure which allows the cathedral to be the phenomenal place of piety and worship it was intended. The cathedral became truly awe-inspiring.

Awe.

Awe is similar to other emotions. Love, fear, admiration, amazement and wonder all share similar traits. But awe is special. We reserve it for only the most fantastic circumstances. There is a touch of the mystic in awe. Awe is vast. It’s timeless.

In a 2003 paper, Dacher Kelter and Jonathan Haidt say this:

In the upper reaches of pleasure and on the boundary of fear is a little studied emotion – awe. Awe is felt about diverse events and objects, from waterfalls to childbirth to scenes of devastation. Awe is central to the experience of religion, politics, nature, and art. Fleeting and rare, experiences of awe can change the course of a life in profound and permanent ways.

Fleeting and rare, experiences of awe can change the course of a life in profound and permanent ways.

In the classic Hindu story the Bhagavadgita, Krishna grants Arjuna the ability to see the universe. He sees gods, suns and infinite time and space. Clearly in a state of awe Arjuna says, “Things never seen before have I seen, and ecstatic is my joy.” Arjuna becomes a changed man.

And in the ninth chapter of Acts, Saul is on the road to Damascus when he becomes blinded by a bright light. Upon hearing the voice of God, Saul becomes Paul, a changed man.

We experience awe in the presence of that which we cannot explain. Perhaps the feeling is too intense or the space so vast that it is beyond comprehension.

People can elicit awe. Beauty, intellect and charisma can be awe-inspiring.

From a soaring symphony to the simplest ballad music, too, has a way of connecting us with something larger than ourselves.

However, nothing inspires awe like nature. The enormity of and ocean with it’s unending cycle of waves, the power of a storm and the grandeur of a mountain peak all remind us of our relatively small place in the universe. Or as Emerson put it in his essay Nature:

In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life – no disgrace, no calamity (leaving me my eyes), which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground, – my head bathed by the blithe air and uplifted into infinite space, – all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or parcel of God.

Dictionary.com defines awe as “an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, fear, etc., produced by that which is grand, sublime, extremely powerful, or the like.”

Produced by that which is grand, sublime, extremely powerful, or the like.

Produced by God which is grand, sublime, extremely powerful, or the like.

God.

Fleeting and rare, experiences of awe can change the course of a life in profound and permanent ways.

Fleeting and rare, experiences of God can change the course of a life in profound and permanent ways.

I met somebody recently. They made such an impression that I’ll likely never forget them. I climbed to the top of a mountain peak. It made such an impression that I’ll likely never forget it.

Why?

Awe.

Why?

God.

As you go about your lives, may you become aware of those times you are filled with wonder and awe. May you feel the power of God at work in the world. As you sense His presence, may you stop to ask why? Why here? Why now? Why God? And may you be filled with peace of mind knowing that the Creator of the universe is at work in your life even today.

Shalom.

Blue-Bear

I got the text. 911. Blue Bear is missing.

Before my nephew was even born, he was given a gift. A little blue teddy bear. He’s four now, but the little blue bear is his favorite friend. He carries it everywhere. He can’t go to sleep without it. He doesn’t leave the house without it.

Blue Bear is well loved.

Recently, just as I was getting out of my car exhausted from a long day of work, I received a text. It was from my brother, asking me to drive down a busy stretch of highway. It seems the little blue bear was missing. My nephew, in an attempt to make his friend comfortable in the hot car, had held him up to the window to get some air.

And the wind sucked him out onto the highway.

“I’m on it,” was my response.

I flew through our neighborhood at God knows what speed. All I knew was that my nephew had lost his most precious toy and if there was any chance of saving him, I would do whatever it took.

Of course, I feared the worst. If blue bear was in the middle of that particular stretch of road, well, there was virtually no chance of his survival. He was a tiny stuffed toy and likely already destroyed.

But I had to try.

As I neared the area where he had flown out the window, I slowed and began to look in the road and on both sides. I saw no signs of life.

At the next red light I called my sister-in-law. She told the story I already knew. My nephew had cried and she had cried. She assured him they could find a replacement for Blue Bear.

But that wouldn’t be the same would it?

As I turned around and headed back up the highway, I saw him.

“I found him! I found him!” I screamed into the phone, literally overcome with relief.

He was face down in the grass, in the median, on the other side of a fence. I had to drive almost a mile to turn around and double back. In my excitement, I completely forgot where I saw him. So, I parked my car on the shoulder, crossed two lanes of busy traffic and began running up the median.

I ran the wrong way.

So, I turned around and ran back…and then I found him.

He was damp from the evening grass, but basically unharmed from the ordeal. I held blue bear with both hands close to my chest. At my car, I cleared out the passenger seat for him. He deserved a seat of honor. I drove him to my bother’s house straight to my waiting nephew.

And went home to collapse.

*****

Just a few weeks ago, I had plans to meet someone for dinner but she called and said she was sorry, that night she just needed to be with her mom.

As children, we’ve all had that favorite stuffed animal, a favorite shirt or security blanket. Something that makes us feel safe. Something we turn to when we’re sick, or lonely, tired or frightened.

As adults, we’d like to think we can take care of ourselves. That we’ve grown beyond the need for a comforter.

But have we?

When times are really hard. When we are at the end of our rope, don’t we all need to be with our mother?

*****

If you are like most people, the Bible can be a book that’s hard to identify with. It’s filled with strange, superstitious stories. Stories of magic, sacrifice, giant fish, people walking on water and people returning from the dead.

There’s a story in the fifteenth chapter of Luke of a woman with ten coins and one coin is missing. She searches everywhere until she finds it. And when she does, she invites all her friends over to celebrate and says, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.”

Maybe you’ve never lost a small silver coin.

Or maybe it’s the idea of God as a loving father that’s hard to understand. Maybe your father wasn’t around. For some people their father is far from the loving protector that Jesus speaks about.

Maybe you need a mother.

Job 38:29 asks, “From whose womb comes the ice? Who gives birth to the frost?”

Deuteronomy 32:18 says, “You were unmindful or the Rock that bore you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.”

This is feminine imagery for God.

Or even more explicitly, as it says in the book of Isaiah, “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you.”

So, maybe you can’t relate to the image of God as a loving father. Or perhaps for you the thought of a woman searching for a lost coin has little meaning. Maybe your God is an uncle. An uncle who loves his nephew so much that that he will do anything to find a little lost blue bear. Or maybe your God is like your mom. Your mom who longs to comfort you.

*****

May you see God as a limitless expression of love, unrestrained by our ability to define or describe. May you experience that love and may you show that love to others.

Be-still

 

There’s something about a long, hot shower. It soothes, it heals, it refreshes. For many of us, it’s the only moment of pure peace in our entire day. There’s no phone to answer. No laundry to fold. No appointment to keep. There’s nothing to do.

There is simply to be.

Scholars say we have entered a time in human existence they have termed the end of boredom. For the first time in history, we are all connected. We are never alone. Our friends (no matter where they live) are always available. Music, movies, games and endless streams of information are as close as our cellphone.

Netfilx, Snapchat, Selfies, Angry Birds

There is always something to do.

We are never alone…

…with our thoughts.

There is an ancient method of prayer, most closely associate with Eastern spiritual practices such a Zen Budhism or Yoga. It’s called Centering Prayer.

Centering prayer is designed to connect with God at the center of our being. God inside us.

Now for many this seems strange or even impossible. Perhaps sacrilegious. We are much more comfortable with a God who is out there somewhere.

On a mountain.

In the sky.

In Heaven.

Really though, since the beginning Christians have been taught that our body is a temple for God. The Holy Spirit lives within us.

In our soul.

At our core.

Our center.

The difficulty in connecting with this God inside us is that we have so many distractions in our lives. So much of our time is spent doing. Work, relationships, eating, driving, tazes. So many things fill up so much of our time. There is so much to do.

In fact we’ve become so comfortable doing things that we have become uncomfortable with anything else. So, we fill up or free time doing more things. Every second of our lives, even our kids lives are planned out. Have you ever scheduled a play date?

And if we do find a free moment, we always have our cell phone, right?

Of course, this need to be doing has affected our spiritual life as well. To pray means to do something, right? We go to church, we fold our hands, we listen to worship music, we say a prayer.

What if there is another way? A way that is leading us not to do, but to be?

Centering prayer is quite simple really. First, take a few minutes to calm your thoughts. Try to disconnect from all distractions. It might help to find a quiet place where you can be alone. Pick a word or sound. Repeat this word over and over between breaths. You will find that you develop a rhythm. If you find yourself distracted, simply reset and begin again. When you have finished praying, thank God for the time together.

That’s it.

If this still seems strange, consider this. Have you ever gone on a long walk with someone you love dearly? Have you ever held hands and enjoyed a few moments of silence together? No words were spoken, but there is no doubt that love was shared.

That is the idea of centering prayer. It is simply spending time with a God that loves you so intimately that He lives inside you. No words are needed, in fact no words are available to explain the depth of that love.

Recently, I drove to the mountains. It was a beautiful, cool spring morning. I pulled off into a parking area to admire the view. And it was a beautiful view. From where I stood on the sidewalk, dozens of mountain peaks were visible. The only signs of civilization were a few small farms in the valley below. After a few moments, I closed my eyes. When I did, I realized that the beauty of the view had been a distraction from the sounds all around me. At first, I heard cars on a distant highway. Then, I nearby waterfall. As I listened more deeply, I heard the cry of a far off bird. I became aware of the wind blowing gently through the tall grass.

It was then when I realized that both my eyes and ears were distracting me from a deeper beauty. When I stopped trying to see God and hear God, I was able to simply be with God.

For a few moments, I experienced pure peace. There was no phone to answer. No laundry to fold. No appointment to keep. There was nothing to do. There was simply to be.

Be still, and know that I am God. – Psalm 46:10

Young kitten jumps

They say cats always land on their feet. Has this been scientifically verified? If tests were run, I suspect the people at PETA weren’t very happy about it.

********

When I was little, the playground at my school had a piece of equipment so obviously unsafe that it’s unlikely you’ll find one like it nowadays. It was a wooden ramp, about 8 feet long and approximately 4 feet off the ground. Just beyond this ramp was a pit filled with wood chips and sand. To the best of my knowledge, the only conceivable use for such a contraption is to line up roughly 30 feet away, run at full speed and hurl yourself into space, landing in a heap after traveling as far as possible. And if possible, try to remain conscious and in one piece.

So, of course, that’s what we did.

Each afternoon, we would take our turn attacking the ramp. The goal being, to see if we could fly farther today than yesterday. If the wind was at your back, or you hit the ramp just right, you might just jump a few inches farther than you ever had before.

Then one day the ramp was gone.

Likely, sanity prevailed at a PTO meeting and the dangerous ramp was destroyed. (Of course we replaced it with the infinitely more dangerous tackle football where I actually DID get a concussion, but that’s another story.)

One day the ramp was gone.

********

I had a friend who loved cats. She had cats on her shirts, cats on her pants, cats on her coats, cats on her computer, cats on her refrigerator. She was a crazy cat lady in training if you ever met one. My friend and I were really close. We shared stories that I’ll never tell anyone else, intimate details of our lives, and lots of laughs. Though we were together for only a short time, it was a hugely significant relationship. We pushed each other to be the best we could be. My friend helped me become a better person.

Then one day my friend was gone.

********

Jesus had a friend named Lazarus. They were very close. One day, while Jesus was away in another town, a message came that his friend was ill. After a few more days of preaching, Jesus and his disciples started off to the town where Lazarus lay dying. Before Jesus could arrive though, his friend had passed away. When Jesus saw his friends Martha and Mary crying, standing in front of the tomb of their brother, Jesus himself began to weep.

It’s not in the Bible, but I’m pretty sure that Jesus said, “well, that sucks.”

His friend was gone.

Of course for Jesus, death never has the last word. Jesus brings Lazarus back from the dead.

I wonder though, if not long after that, when Jesus prepares to go to Jerusalem, does Lazarus stay behind? What if he had business to attend to? Did he say to Jesus, “Enjoy the Passover! I’ll see you next week!” Did days later a message come to Lazarus that his friend was dying on a cross? Did he arrive in time to find Jesus laying in a tomb? Did he weep? Did he wish he’d had a chance to say goodbye?

We all long for one more jump.

One more hug.

One more chance to say goodbye.

Ephesians 4:6 says there is:

one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Have you lost a friend? Were you in a relationship that ended? Have you ever woken up to realize they aren’t coming back? Or is there a hole where once there was something, a business or activity, that brought you so much joy? Have you ever asked, where is God in all of this?

God doesn’t take away our friends anymore than He removes pieces of playground equipment. He is right there with us, standing beside us as we stare at a patch of dead grass in front of a pointless pit of wood chips and sand. He’s sitting there with us on a park bench when the realization hits that she isn’t coming back. I believe God says, “that sucks.” And then, He weeps with us.

********

May you take the time each day to fully appreciate the crazy, dangerous, seemingly useless piece of playground equipment in your life. May you make the most of each moment with your crazy cat lady friend. When you weep, may you know you’re not alone. And may you remember that death, and loss, and pain do not have the last word.

My friend, may you always land on your feet.