February 2009


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Lord,

It seems as though my heart has mimicked the weather of Epiphany.  It has been foggy, cold and dark outside, and I realize the same is true for the climate of my heart.

As we enter into Lent and the daylight lengthens, I too, open my heart to You and the radiance of Your light.  Please come illuminate the dark corners of my heart and bring warmth to those places gone cold.

I understand that sometimes Your illumination will feel like exposure and my first response wil be to hide, to shrink back into dark corners.  But I desire instead to choose to trust You.  I understand that other times Your light will bring a warmth to the very core of my soul and I will bask with delight in it.  But while I enjoy it, I will not grab after it.  My heart will be satisfied with what You desire to give.

I ask only these things:  the patience to sit before You with an open heart and the firm anchor of trusting Your great love toward me.

Arise, Thou Sun,

Upon the winter landscape of my heart

Winter rations are dwindling

And I need Thy light!

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Yesterday as we read Psalm 51 in the Ash Wednesday service, I began to grow uncomfortable.  The psalm talks a lot about sin, repentance, our need for mercy and is quite solemn.  It is a let’s-clean-out-the-house-and-take-a-good-long-look-at-what-we-find piece of poetry.  As irritation was stirred in me, I think it’s because (in my estimation)  I come from a tradition that would normally pick out our favorite “hunks and chunks” from this Psalm, but here, during this service, I stood before the psalm in its entirety.

Here is David – a man after God’s own heart, one of the house of Israel – pouring his heart out, confessing his sin, and begging for forgiveness.  I think my discomfort came from the feeling that if we would have read this in the halls of my tradition, we would rationalize that “we’ve already been forgiven” and “of course, God will not take His Spirit from us!”  We might be uncomfortable with the extent to which David talks about what a sinner he is and retort with a “yes, but now I believe I am in Christ so this doesn’t apply”.  (Sometimes I think we read and comment on the Scriptures rather than letting those Scriptures sink in and read us.)

See, I come from a tradition that likes to keep things upbeat.  We like fast celebratory music that we can clap to.  We like victory songs.

I come from a tradition that likes the word “believe”.  When an issue arises we like to find a bible verse that will fix things, at least in our minds.  We like ideas and thoughts.

I come from a tradition that likes to talk.  We have great teachers of the Word and bible study discussions.  We like discourse.

I come from a tradition that likes to stay busy.  We join committees, call meetings and “do ministry”.  We like our calendars full and our plans carried out quickly.

I come from a tradition that needs Lent.  It needs confession to add depth to its celebration.  It needs deep repentance juxtaposed to its “believe-ism”.  It needs silence to temper its talking and times of waiting to confront its busyness.

Yes, we need Lent.  We need a time where we open our hearts to God in confession, repentance, silence and waiting – for a long period of time, not just a Sunday morning.  We need this time of year where we, with the Spirit, look at our happy, clappy, noisy, busy, believing faith and ask Him to do some “Spring cleaning”.

Reading for the rest of the week:  Psalm 51

Activity:  Draw a big heart then cut it up into 4 (or more) pieces, so it looks a little like a puzzle.  Label one piece “good stuff”, another “dark places”, another “fears”, and the last “desires/dreams”.  Ask God to show what He sees in your heart and as He reveals it, in each corresponding section draw or write the words that are in your heart.  This is the beginning of our Lenten (and Psalm 51) journey – to bring to God and ourselves what is really going on in our hearts.

May our hearts be transformed by His presence!

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A friend of mine and her little girl joined me today at an Ash Wednesday service at a local Lutheran church.  From the moment the little girl walked in, she was full of questions – questions about the cross and our foreheads and was I going to get one (a cross, that is, not a forehead!)

As we entered the sactuary she looked around intently and I thought she was taking in the ornate surrounding.  Afterall the stained glass windows explode with color and beauty, the altar is sparsely but elegantly adorned and in the back balcony the pipes from the organ sparkle as polished silver.  The mood in the room was solemn and silence pervaded the air.

Then this little onlooker, leaned over to her mom and in a loud whisper said, “Where’s Jesus?”

Her eyes scanned the room and saw the elements of the eucharist on the front altar covered with a white cloth.  This sweet, perceptive imp asked once again, “Is Jesus hiding?”

As the ministers walked out of the door to the left of the platform, all of a sudden this little one exclaimed, “Oh!!  There’s Jesus!”

We kept trying to explain to her the best we could about how she may not really SEE Jesus there – in bodily form.  She was not to be deterred.  All through the service she kept looking and asking, and trying to figure out where Jesus was.  Even after the whole congregation had left and a guy came out with a dust buster to vacuum something up, she still kept asking, “Is that Jesus?”

I share all this because while it was quite humorous, God used her little questions to convict me of how often I am not on the lookout for Him.  I often walk into places (even church) and don’t expect to see Him – so I don’t look and I don’t ask.  But today I realized that I wanted to.  I wanted my heart to be like that of a child who walks in expecting to see Jesus.  I want to keep asking everyone around about His whereabouts.  I don’t want to get sidetracked with other endenvours so much that I forget to try to find Jesus in the midst of whatever I am doing.

Now, I don’t know if she ever really saw Jesus today…and truthfully I don’t know if I will see Him everyday.  But I want to always come with the expectation that He might just be there, AND if I look carefully I just might see Him!!

May our hearts be His this Lenten season.

(By the way, I am reminded of the book Tales of the Kingdom and the story of “Sighting Day”.  It is quite a similar story!  If you have kids and don’t have the book yet, I highly recommend you pick it up.  If you don’t have kids yet, I still highly recommend the book.)

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Our Lenten theme this year is going to be “Search me, O God.  And know my heart.  Try me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any hurtful way in me, and lead me in  the everlasting way.”  (Psalm 139)  We will be exploring what the scriptures have to say about our hearts and opening our hearts up to the work of God.  Our prayer and activties will be focused around the central theme of searching our hearts.

My Lenten discipline is going to be that of writing.  I have committed to God time each day to read and write on the subject of the heart and what it looks like to allow God to open us up and transform us.  Much of what I write I will post here.  That too is part of my Lenten discipline – to overcome my insecurity and publish some unrefined theological and life musings.  I’d love any feedback or insights or good reads…

I read the other day that the word Lent finds its root in the word “to lengthen”.  Our days are getting longer – a true blessing for those who live in Northern places!!  And I believe God wants to lengthen us – to grow us larger, to lengthen our character, to enlarge our relationship with Him.  Lent is about that lengthening, which may come to us in a form of stretching us beyond our comfortable places.  But the lengthening is always good.

I am reminded of one of A.W. Tozer’s prayers: “Englarge (or lengthen) and purify the mansion of my heart that it may be fit habitation for Thy Spirit.”  May that be our prayer this Lenten season.

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As we approach Lent, I thought I’d post a few musings of what Lent is and isn’t, how to prepare for Lent and the journey that our family is going to take during this Lenten Season.

Not having grown up in a liturgical system, my view of Lent was “that-time-of-the-year-when-everyone-gives-up-chocolate”!  I also saw the gluttony of the Mardi Gras celebration juxtaposed to the solemnity of wearing ashes on the forehead as strange and perhaps slightly askew.  In all, I approached the season with critical eyes and disregard – thinking it unnecessary.  However, as I began to learn about the Christian Calendar and the Story it tells, I began to see my need for Lent.  Let me explain…

Lent is a 40 day period that commemorates the time Jesus spent in the wilderness. It begins on Ash Wednesday and concludes at sundown on Holy Thursday.  (Now I know there is actually more than 40 days during these two days, but the Sundays are not counted because they are always to be a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus!)  With the words “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel”, we are marked with ashes on our foreheads and are encouraged to enter a journey of repentance and searching our hearts.  It is very much like an annual spiritual checkup.

Lent is a time for “confrontation with the false self” (Thomas Keating) when we reflect on the responses and behaviors we exhibit that are least Christ like and seek God’s help in rededicating ourselves to God and God’s purposes. This is a time for self-denial and fasting when we give up some of the comforts of our lives in order to make ourselves more available to God.

Traditionally, Lent is marked by penitential prayer, fasting, and alms giving. Some churches especially in the Orthodox tradition, still observe a rigid schedule of fasting on certain days during Lent, especially the giving up of meat, alcohol, sweets, and other types of food. Other traditions do not place as great an emphasis on fasting, but focus on charitable deeds, especially helping those in physical need with food and clothing, or simply the giving of money to charities. Most Christian churches that observe Lent at all focus on it as a time of prayer, especially penance, repenting for failures and sin as a way to focus on the need for God’s grace. It is really a preparation to celebrate God’s marvelous redemption at Easter, and the resurrected life that we live, and hope for, as Christians.”  (Christine Sine)

So what should we consider as we travel this road to Lent?

1.  Find an Ash Wednesday service to attend – (we attend a local Lutheran Church)

2.  Ask the Lord what He might want you to fast from or perhaps add to your life for the 40 days of the Lenten Season.  (I know people who fast from meals or certain foods, or some who fast from certain technologies or habits.  One year, I felt the Lord telling me to “give up fear” – that was a crazy road to travel with God!  Some people add acts of kindness to do each day.)

3.  Spend some time in prayer and reflection each day asking God about the habits of your heart and, perhaps, areas of unbridled appetite.

4.  Share what God is doing in you and revealing to you with some close friends who are taking a Lenten journey as well.

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This week I have learned to “present my body” (Rom. 12) in some unorthodox ways, but it has lead to some orthodox thoughts – and a refreshing reminder of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

So, a few weeks ago a friend of mine called and invited me to a hot yoga class.  This new studio had opened up in town and was doing a deal 10 classes for $10.  You really can’t beat that price AND since I have been SO cold this winter, I thought that it would be worth $10 just to be in a hot room for an hour.  This last week I went twice to hot yoga and though I don’t subscribe to yogic-spirituality, it has taught me some things about abiding and presenting my body.

During the hot yoga class, the room is heated to 110 degrees.  At first, it feels so good – coming in from the cold outside, my freezing toes finally thaw and turn toasty.  However, once we begin to go through the postures, I begin to feel the discomfort of the heat and the enormous amount of sweat dripping off my body.

The class progresses as we move our bodies into a posture and then HOLD IT.  At this point, all my faculties are engaged – my body needs to hold still, my mind needs to focus and my will needs to dig in.  We only hold the posture for one minute, but during that time it seems as though the clock goes into slow motion.

As I stood in one of the postures the other day, the Lord entered into my thoughts and said three words, “Abide in Me”.  I realized that up until this point, I wanted “abiding” to be easy, soft and angelic with warm Hollywood lighting and a nice deep sigh (and maybe some tranquil music playing in the background?).  But here I stood in a far more of what, for me, is an abiding stance – shaking, sweating, trying to focus and not fall over, in the heat of the moment with no relief in sight.  It was as if God said, “Tara, sometimes abiding means that you present your body and remain in that presentation whether it feels good or not.  Just stay!  Remain though you are enticed by the sensation to flee or quit.”

Then, on Saturday night, I went to church and realized I had no feeling of worship or desire to be there.  But once again God entered my thought process and took me bck to the class earlier this week.  He showed me that standing in the sanctuary is the same lesson as in the yoga studio.  “Present your body, Tara.  Take up the postures and remain.”  (However, this time my reason for doing it was far greater.  It wasn’t about exercise, it was about His Worthiness.)  Once again, all my faculties were employed – my body in standing, my mind on the words I was singing, and my will to choose God and not my sensations/feelings.  I learned to remain – to abide – and not run to anything else.

I am not sure what sort of training this is or what it will lead to, but I know that I am supposed to “present my body” and “remain”.  I am not being given any feelings or spiritual experience, only a training of my focus and will beginning with getting my body into the space of obedience.

Happy Valentine’s Day!!!_mg_9641

Opening prayer:

O Lord, You have taught us that without love, whatever we do is worth nothing:  Send Your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts Your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue.  Grant this for the sake of Your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit.  One God, now and for ever.  Amen

Readings: (we read from The Life of Christ in Stereo, so I’m putting in the references for those who want them)

“I believe – Help my unbelief” – Mt. 17:14-21, Mk 9:14-29, Lk. 9:37-43a

Discourses on Humility and Forgiveness – Mt. 18:1-20, Mk. 9:33b-10:1, Lk. 9:46-50

How Many Times Forgive? – Mt. 18:21-35

The Good Samaritan – Lk 10:25-37

Martha and Mary – Lk. 10:38-42

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