Tuesday – March 24, 2020
You are the God of great wonders. You demonstrate your awesome power among the nations.
A Word of Hope
Praise the Wonders of the Lord
Prayer is one of the ways we communicate with God as speech is a way that we communicate with others here on earth. In all human relationships there are levels of verbal and non-verbal communication. Early on in relation to another it is a “getting to know you” stage which evolves to sharing deeper thoughts and feelings and eventually we are comfortable with simple silence when together.
The same is true regarding prayer. It may begin with our asking for favors for ourselves and/or loved ones that leads to prayers of gratitude and praise and eventually leads to prayer that is known as contemplation. Contemplation is when you are in the presence of God and are comfortable in the silence. Just being together says it all! Instead of talking to or with God, just LISTEN when in the presence of the Lord and give thanks for what you hear!
The Psalms are about being at the level or stage of praise in our relationship to God. We are in awe of God’s wonders. We are thrilled that God sides with us and not our enemies. God watches over the widows and orphans. God gives sight to the blind. “I will sing praise to God all my life.”
[Take a deep breath and exhale slowly….do it again and place yourself the Presence of God]
O Holy One! I give thanks and praise for not only all you have done for me, but for all that you ARE to me. You listen when I need to speak with you and you are just present when I have to cry. When I am happy and just want to share my joy with you, you are there. You are always there and that is the greatest gift to me. Help me to be patient with myself and with others knowing that everyone is at a difference place on our faith journey.
We pray these words through your many names, O God!
Cathedral of Hope / United Church of Christ
Monday – March 23, 2020
The voice of the one that cries in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God…
A Word of Hope
And so, it begins. Last Tuesday, the staff at our church received the word that our normal way of life and doing ministry were about to drastically change. A dangerous, highly contagious virus was sweeping the land and the most expedient solution in impeding its spread would be to retreat into the surrounding wilderness, away from the hub of our community efforts. The media, medical community, and the politicians are busy creating new definitions, like social distancing, to describe this new agenda. Isolation, however, is not a new idea.
Many of the super-stars of the Bible were experts at isolating. It actually was their normal way of life. The most famous was Jesus, of course, who not only embarked on those 40 days of fasting and prayer that always usher in the Season of Lent, but who also reserved frequent solitary retreats as regular periods of spiritual refreshment. He was in good company in his reclusive practices. The ancient monks called it solitudinarianism. Prophets such as Elijah, Isaiah, and John the Baptist were model reclusives as was the servant Hagar, whose forced desert isolation with her son Ishmael resulted in the birth of a new nation.
A large percentage of our world must feel like Hagar these days. She was excluded from the family unit of Sarah and Abraham through no fault of her own. Sarah, the matriarch of the Hebrew People had made sure Abraham’s son by Hagar would be out of the competition against her own son Isaac as the leader of their people. Sarah must have seemed like a disease to Hagar. But, Hagar conversed with and confronted God; finally establishing Ishmael in his role as the leader of another tribe, the Ishmaelites, still revered as the ancestors of the Muslims today.
Isolation has a number of different effects on individuals. There was a time in his solitude when Elijah propped himself up against an old tree and just prayed for death. Jesus used his wilderness experiences as times of refreshment, renewal, and commitment. Hagar didn’t like it there in the desert, but knew God never lost sight of her and she never gave up.
In which direction will isolation take us? I have no doubt our church will emerge from this experience stronger than ever. Though we may be “socially distanced”, we are still a cohesive community. Our Biblical predecessors didn’t have the advantages of Skype, Zoom, remote access, cell phone videos, YouTube Networks, and the social media. Our survival is imminent, because, Like Hagar, God has not lost sight of us, or of you, either.
In our isolation, we are together in desiring the well being of all. Jesus isolated for 40 days contemplating the same goal. May we discard any feelings of loneliness in favor of the refreshment that can be born in solitude. In our silence, may we hear your voice.
Minister for Children and Families
Order of St. Francis and St. Clare
Friday – March 20, 2020
“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened so that you can experience the hope you were made for.”
Word of Hope
Oh feelings. So many of us were taught that our feelings are dangerous, deceptive, problematic…wicked. We were taught that we certainly shouldn’t trust our feelings or feel them too much. And we certainly were not taught by our culture to listen to our feelings, to trust them, to find in them great wisdom and understanding. In fact, we might have even had a decontextualized Bible verse quoted at us: “The heart is deceptive above all things and beyond cure.”
But the passage I quoted here today is one of many that locates the heart as the source of wisdom, hope and revelation. One of the many things queer and trans individuals offer to the Church is the knowledge that our feelings and bodies are a sacred source of wisdom, that needs to be listened to, or else.
How often do we let our feelings name God? How often do we listen to our feelings describe what it is that we need of and from God? Are we scared to do so? Does that feel too intimate? Too personal? Too close? Or does that feel too heretical? Too blasphemous?
I encourage you when you have a moment to sit still, ask your feelings, “Who do you say God is? Who is God to you?” And see what your feelings say. So much enlightenment and wisdom, so much revelation and hope, lives in our feelings if we will listen to them.
Can you trust yourself? Can you trust yourself to know God? To see God? To feel God? Can you say, “These needs that I have, that genuinely need a God who sees me, who is not ashamed of me, I can trust these needs.” Can you say, “These needs that I have, of a God who believes in me, who actually trusts me, I can believe God is that good?” Can you trust your feelings a bit more this week to enrich your spirituality? To paint an image of God even more beautiful than the one you already have?
Wonderful One, my heart says today, “I need a God who respects my boundaries.” I was not taught a God who respects my boundaries. I was taught I had no right when it came to You. But my feelings say that’s what I need. My feelings say I need security, I need the right to control myself, I need the right to belong to me, even before You. And I’m going to believe that you really are that good, that you really are what I need. I’m going to listen to my feelings today, and say that you are a God who can respect me, as I respect You. I love You, Spirit, and I thank you for being one who will talk with me like this. Amen.
Thiursday – March 19, 2020
Some of us have gotten the message that if we cannot [handle the dark emotions and move on], we may not have enough faith in God. If we had enough, we would be able to banish the dark angels from our beds, replacing them with the light angels of belief, trust, and praise. Greenspan calls this “spiritual bypassing”—using religion to dodge dark emotions instead of letting them lead us to embrace those dark angels as the best, most demanding spiritual teachers we may ever have.” Barbara Brown Taylor
A Word of Hope
The letter that came was the trigger. It tracked a history of confusion and hurt. From the time of reading it, shame began to shadow me. In my bed at night the Dark Angel kept vigil while the condemning voices held court—charging, convicting me. There would be no clemency. I grew small before the magistrate. No voice, no defense would sway the power. The only rescuers, Grace and the voice of a friend, in the valley of the shadow, and eventually self-compassion.
In a 2012 talk, Brenee Brown tells of having the worst “vulnerability hangover” of her life after her first TEDX appearance in Houston. She had told the 500 person audience (which grew to 4 million on YouTube) that when her research led her to the conclusion that vulnerability was absolutely necessary for whole hearted living, she had a breakdown. The shame was so great that she kept to her house for 3 days. The compassionate listening of a good friend helped release the hold of this emotion which Brown calls “lethal.” But here’s the good news: it cannot survive empathy.
I am still in the midst of learning from this latest experience, but when a devotional piece writes itself in your head at night, it calls for your attention and risks being spoken. As Rumi proposes in “The Guest House”: Every day can bring joy, depression, or meanness as “unexpected visitors.” Welcome them all, he urges, and treat each as an honorable guest—“even if they are a crowd of sorrows who violently sweep your house empty.” They may be “clearing you out for some delight.” Even “the dark thought, the shame, the malice”—invite them in and “be grateful for what comes because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.”
The Orthodox Church speaks of the “bright sadness” of Lent, a phrase that resonates with the deep work of the season. A profound mingling of grief and joy, contrition and forgiveness, crucifixion and resurrection. May your own demanding spiritual teachers, guide you to the cross and into Easter light.
Take us by the hand and lead us,/ Lead us through the desert sands./ Bring us living water,/ Holy Spirit come. (Brian Wren)
Dr. Pat Saxon
Wednesday – March 18, 2020
“And Mary Magdalene was there.”
A Word of Hope
The church we belonged to when I was young didn’t “do” Lent. After I heard it mentioned by a few Catholic friends who all gave up chocolate for an unbearably long time, I realized why we didn’t observe it in our church.
That would never fly with the Baptists.
Now as a (no longer Baptist) adult seeking to realize and incorporate this tradition, I still struggle with thoughts like, “There’s already plenty of suffering in the world, thank you. I fail to see how my giving up chocolate is beneficial.” So, if my attempts at Lenten observance look far different from yours, I can only say I come by it honestly; but, I’m a work in progress.
While considering what to write during this reflective period, my soul kept pulling me – inexplicably at first – to Mary Magdalene. Exactly how she played into a devotional for Lent eluded me. But as I continued to meditate on it, I knew why I’d been so strongly drawn to her.
Few individuals, if any, walked so closely with Christ during his final days.
Mary clung to him through his long, difficult journey to the cross. She financed his ministry. She ministered to him as he suffered through the desertion and betrayal of friends during his most devastating times.
Three of his closest confidants slept rather than stand guard.
But, Mary remained.
His ally, on three separate occasions, denied even knowing him.
But, Mary remained.
One of the twelve betrayed him and set his murder in motion.
But, Mary remained.
Jesus’ inner circle secretly holed up while their Lord was being executed.
But, Mary remained.
While the other disciples grappled with the possibility they’d gotten it all wrong, Mary returned to the tomb.
In the time of his greatest need, most of the disciples were absent.
But, Mary remained.
She was the first witness to the Resurrection.
She was the first minister of the Gospel. (Yes, a woman.)
Because she remained.
As I contemplate her devotion, I’ve determined to be more like Mary Magdalene: assured, dignified, loyal, trustworthy, enduring, fully present, and persistently hopeful, no matter the circumstance.
One Lenten season may not get me there. But, it will get me started.
Most Loving God,
We thank You for Mary Magdalene and her steadfast presence in the life of Jesus.
May we embrace her integrity. May we be a people who remain when others have pulled away.
May we remain committed to Love and Mercy and Justice, even in the darkest hours when they appear to be lost. May we remain mindful in every circumstance that Soul Force ultimately triumphs over brute force. And may we bear witness to that miraculous, enduring power.
And so it is. Amen.
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