Can We Rest in the Midst of Storms?

Jesus Calms the storm – Rembrandt

This morning I read the story of Jesus in the storm from Mark 4:35-41

35 As evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.”36 So they took Jesus in the boat and started out, leaving the crowds behind (although other boats followed). 37 But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water.

38 Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?”

39 When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!”Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. 40 Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

41 The disciples were absolutely terrified. “Who is this man?” they asked each other. “Even the wind and waves obey him!”

Something struck me that I had never thought much about before – Jesus was actually deeply asleep in the midst of this storm. Now I lived on a ship for 12 years and I know that it is hard to sleep in the midst of a storm when the ship is rocking and rolling, the waves are crashing and the cargo groans against its bonds threatening to break loose at any moment. Even now when I live in a stationary home, I know how anxiety can keep awake, often creating its own storms of fretting, fear and uncertainty.

Sleeping in the midst of storms is a sign of extreme stupidity or of supreme confidence. Jesus’ response when the disciples woke him shows that his sleep was one of confidence. He trusted completely that the God who formed the waters and allowed the storms, the God who called him beloved Son, was still in control and would keep them all safe no matter how violently the waters raged. In the midst of the storm he was able to find rest and refreshment.

Sometimes I think that we forget that Jesus is in the boat with us. Sometimes I not sure that we really want to wake him. The storm itself is frightening, Jesus calming of the storm is terrifying.

We are in the midst of stormy times as the government shutdown here in the U.S. and its accompanying storms continues to rock all our boats. My neighbours are out of work for the duration and the poor are tightening their belts even more as programmes like SNAP, WIC and low income housing assistance are suspended.

How much confidence do we have that Jesus is in the boat with us? And what would it look like for him to calm this storm? It is so easy for us to pray for the solution we want to see happen – extreme conservatives for the disintegration of the government, democrats for the passing of a budget that still includes health care reform. But it is hard for us to have the faith to believe that whatever God allows to happen in this storm, Jesus is still with us. It is he, not us who is in control.

So my prayer today is that God will calm the storm and that we will be able to find rest and confidence in whatever that calming looks like.

A New Bible, A New Voice, A New Compass

A couple of weeks ago I received a new bible from the publishers Thomas Nelson. It is the Compass Study Bible which uses The Voice translation. This is a translation I was not familiar with and I am thoroughly enjoying its contemporary language and “contextual equivalence” translation – which means it seeks to convey the original language accurately while rendering the literary structures and character of a text in readable and meaningful contemporary language.

The Compass edition provides interesting In-text notes that include cultural, historical, theological and devotional thoughts as well as introductions to each book and topical guides to each day of the year. However the bias of some of the comments did concern me a little.  like this note on 1 Corinthians 10 :In the midst of radical economic and technological advances, some within the church are embracing new or contemporary practices and regarding them as somehow superior to ancient and historic practices. Maybe I am a little sensitive here as I love to experiment and encourage others to try new practices, that may be more contextually appropriate for their lifestyles and for our contemporary culture. I don’t regard these as superior to ancient practices but do think this type of expression is important.

The format in The Compass is an engaging narrative approach which took me a while to get used to after so many years of reading in the usual text format but I am now thoroughly enjoying the change and plan to use this new bible for the next couple of years. I think it would provide a great introduction for young Christians or for those who find the usual bible format a little overwhelming.

I appreciate the “God’s Promises guide at the beginning of the book, and the 40 day retreat with Jesus (a little like lectio divina for 40 days) but was disappointed with the reading plan for every day of the year. All it does is go through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation in day sized bites. I suppose I have been spoiled by the richness of the daily lectionary readings which give Old and New Testament readings each day in keeping with the liturgical season. I have learned so much about the relationship between the Old and New Testament stories in this way, gaining fresh insights about what Jesus meant as I read the OT scriptures he was quoting.

This bible is currently only available through Walmart which also disappoints me, but I still think it is worth a look for anyone who wants to try a new contemporary translation or a new approach to bible study.

Why Should We Raise the Minimum Wage

Today is Labour Day here in the U.S. and I find myself reflecting on the plight of those who suffer because of low wages and inadequate benefits. My thoughts have been stimulated by several things.

First this info graphic that was posted on Facebook.

Minimum wageSecond by this article talking about the budget that McDonald’s suggested for its minimum wage workers. It includes a second job and with only $20/ month budgeted for health care and $27/week for food and gas, obviously expects that workers will take advantage of food stamps and medicaid. One response I read to this article even mentioned these as justifiable additions to their income. Which sounds like corporate sponsorship to me.

My third stimulus this morning was this reading from James:

Listen to me dear brothers and sisters. Hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Aren’t they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him? But you dishonour the poor! Isn’t it the rich who oppress you and drag you into court? Aren’t they the ones who slander Jesus Christ, whose noble name you bear?

Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: Love your neighbour as yourself. (James 2:5-8)

Loving our neighbours means being concerned for their welfare – that they have a place to live, nutritious food to eat and health care, education and retirement plans to sustain them just as we do.

In many countries of the world minimum wage is calculated on what it takes to live with 2 dependents – on one job. Here in the U.S. even two minimum wage jobs make that difficult. Most of these people are in the service industry – waiters in restaurants, maids in hotels. People live in their cars, sometimes whole families. Or they live in overcrowded apartments in the most dangerous parts of town. And they are dependent on food stamps and medicaid.

These people work very hard for a living (or should I say a non-living). I think they should receive a living wage. Yes it would mean we have to pay more when we eat out but surely that is part of the true cost of living. What do you think?

 

A Happy St Patrick’s Day

I am moving a little slow this morning so thought that I would get this prayer up first – Lenten reflection for the day still to come. St Patrick’s Day is on Sunday (not today as it said in the original post

Godspace

 

 

It is St Patrick’s Day and while many here in the US think only of Hallmark cards over corned beef and cabbage some are aware that this is a day to remember one who helped to spread the gospel in a time of darkness and oppression.  I was going to write a long post on this today but can see that others have beaten me too it so thought that I would just provide you with the best links (at least in my opinion) that I have found.

First the best Irish saying I have seen today from Michael Bell in Ontario

 And may those that love us, love us. And may those that don’t, twist their ankles so we may know them by their limping…”

Jonathan Stegall encourages us to “have a Guiness and remember to work against oppression and slavery as Patrick did  Read the…

View original post 484 more words

Praying With Tears by Kimberlee Conway Ireton

“The noun torah comes from a verb, yarah, that means to throw something, a javelin, say, so that it hits its mark. The word that hits its mark is torah… As we prepare to pray, to answer the words God addresses to us, we learn that all of God’s words have this characteristic: they are torah and we are the target.”

—Eugene Peterson, Answering God

AutumnCrocus

AutumnCrocus2

AutumnCrocus3

I sit on the sofa in a circle of lamplight. Night presses on the windowpanes. Cold seeps through them. But the heat rattles in the registers, and I am cozy under a fleece blanket.

The house is quiet. Everyone else is asleep. The stars have aligned tonight and given me a moment of silence, alone in asleeping house in the dark of a midwinter night.

My Bible lies open on my lap. I am praying through the Psalms again, morning and (when I can manage it) night. Tonight I read Psalm 11:

In the Lord I take refuge;
how can you say to my soul,
“Flee like a bird to your mountain,
for behold, the wicked bend the bow;
they have fitted their arrow to the string
to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart;
if the foundations are destroyed,
what can the righteous do?”

On the one hand, the poetry moves me—the image of the bird and the bow, the arrow on the loose, the destroyed foundations. On the other hand, the reality of the image hits a little closer to home than I would like.

These past six months I have been writing a memoir about my postpartum year with twins, a year marked by the darkest days I have ever known. Revisiting that dark time has been healing, of course, a chance to make sense of my experience, to see how God has redeemed it. But it also raises a lot of questions, questions for which I don’t have answers, questions like the Psalmist’s in this psalm: if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?

In the darkness of my postpartum experience, I felt like the foundations of my life, of my self were being eroded and destroyed. And what do you do when you are no longer the person you’ve always believed yourself to be, when your faith—and therefore your identity—is shaken and you’re clinging to it by your fingernails and you know there’s a wicked something-or-other out there with a bow and an arrow trained on your grasping fingers?

Wrapped in my blanket, I shiver a little. But I am not ready to go to bed. The silence is rich, alive somehow, the circle of lamplight comforting, though I know the darkness presses at the edge of my sight. I flip through the pages of my Bible and stop at John 10. I’m not sure why, really, but I think the Good Shepherd story might cheer me, might remind me whose I am, and send that bow-wielder back to the dark from whence he came.

I read the Good Shepherd story. It’s a wonderful story, really, but so familiar as to cease to amaze. A pity, that. But I keep reading, past the space break in my Bible with its bold heading to show that we’re moving on to a new topic. Only we aren’t. Jesus is still talking about sheep. He says,

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”

And suddenly, I am weeping. I read those words again and again, like a woman dying of thirst who has stumbled upon a spring. But this spring is inside of me, and I didn’t even know it was there. The tears keep coming, and I don’t even know why I’m crying. Something in those words released something in me, and it’s flowing down my cheeks.

Later, I will talk about this with my spiritual director, and she will help me see that these words touched a deep place of fear in me, the fear in which I lived during my postpartum darkness, the fear that I would cease to be, that I would never see my children again. These words of Jesus promise that life is forever, that I will never perish, that my children will never perish, that nothing and no one can snatch us from the hand of God. And I will say that I know that, that I have even written words to that effect before, many times. I will say I don’t know why this time they got through my intellectual filters and stabbed me right in my heart.

But for now, sitting on the sofa in a circle of quiet, I have yet to think those thoughts. I only know that Jesus’ words have stirred something deep in me, and though I don’t understand why, I also know that these are healing tears, tears of release and return and redemption. And I am grateful. Grateful for the words. Grateful for the tears. Grateful for God’s grace that would prompt me to read a familiar passage again and speak through it words I didn’t even know I needed to hear.

“Prayer,” Eugene Peterson says, “begins in the senses, in the body.” If that is so, then this night, I am praying as truly as I know how.

Post and photos by Kimberlee Conway Ireton, general misfit, mother of four, and author of The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year.

One Final Celebration of Light Before Lent

Let the light shine

This last Sunday was Candlemas which commemorates the dedication of Christ in the temple. To be honest this is not a feast that I have bothered with in the past but on Sunday our preacher made a comment that really caught my attention. It is the last celebration of light before we enter the painful journey of Lent next week he said. Lets celebrate the light before we take off the festive clothes of Christmas for the last time.

Traditionally at this festival, people brought all the candles they expected to use during the year to have them blessed. This really impressed me because it so happened that on Saturday I brought what I expect will be the year’s supply of light too. A whole bunch of LED lights to replace the last of our incandescent bulbs. This week as I go around replacing these I plan to reflect on the blessing of light, not just the blessing of artificial lights that enable us to see in the midst of dark places, but the blessing of Christ’s light which shines in all the dark places of our lives and of our world. And I will reflect too on the coming of Lent, in some ways a dark season, but in others a season of dawning light in which we expose the dark and hidden places that we previously have not allowed the light of Christ to penetrate. 

Perhaps you would like to take time this week to bless the lights that will see you through the year – not just the physical lights but the spiritual lights too. What are the resources you expect will illumine your darkness and give you light? And to start your journey you may like to reflect on this beautiful Celtic prayer:

Christ as a light, illumine and guide us.

Christ as a shield, overshadow and cover us.

Christ be under us, Christ be over us.

Christ be beside us, on left and on right.

Christ be before us, Christ be behind us.

Christ be within us, Christ be without us.

Christ as a light, illumine and guide us

 

 

I Think God Believes in Cross Pollinating

red zebra tomato

red zebra tomato

A couple of days ago I read an article in the Seed Saver catalogue about the development of the Red Zebra tomato. In 1992, the developer, jeff Dawson noticed that one pant in his row of Green Zebra tomatoes had different colouring. He recognized something new had emerged and saved the seed from that one plant. Planting it out the following year produced amazing results. At least five distinctly different tomates appeared. One became the red and yellow striped red zebra, another a larger striper slicer called Copia and a third green with no stripes became Marz green. A fourth tomato with yellow and green stripes became Lemonhead.

Seed from these varieties was saved and Jeff worked to stabilize the varieties over the next 3-5 years. Some threw off even more unique and distinct varieties. What really impacted me was Jeff’s comment

It is so fascinating to see how one simple act of cross pollination in a garden and a gardener who is paying attention can produce a whole new family of tomato varieties.

Cross pollination, inbuilt in God’s plan for diversity. It produces an ever changing array of varieties of all kinds of fruit, vegetables and flowers. It encourages varieties that can adapt to a range of habitats a fruit may never have existed in before. Sometimes, as in the rich array of potatoes that thrive in South America,  it produces a variety that will only grow effectively in a few fields.

Shane Claiborne tells me Mustard Seed Associates is one of the best cross pollinating organizations he knows so as you can imagine this article really caught my attention. Cross pollination is extremely important in the church too. We learn from Christians of other traditions and sometimes our collaboration produces new expressions of church and faith that looks very different from the parent church or organization.

Unfortunately, we are not always good gardeners. We don’t always even notice the one plant in the congregation that is uniquely different from the rest. And if we do we often don’t nurture that new expression until it stabilizes and produces fruit that stays true. We are more likely to cut it down, or try to force it to produce fruit like all the other plants. 

The garden teaches me that God is a God of rich diversity, diversity that is ever changing, ever adapting to new soils and climates. Why do we think that when it comes to the church that diversity suddenly crashes to a halt? Why do we think that churches should be homogenous in beliefs, ethnicity, age and social strata?

So my question today is how do we become good gardeners in the churches (gardens) that God has placed us in? How do we recognize, nurture and grow the new varieties that are emerging in our midst without trying to squeeze them back into the old models (plants)? How do we become those good gardeners who can both recognize and nurture the new things that are emerging in our midst?