Infused with the Breath of God – Andy Wade

Today’s post in the series Return to Our Senses in Lent comes from Andy Wade, communications coordinator at Mustard Seed Associates. Andy also wears a number of other hats. He was recently awarded the “Inspired Service and Action Award” from Gorge Ecumenical Ministries for his work with the homeless in Hood River. His pastoral ministry amongst those at the margins inspires us to new levels commitment in our own lives.

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Peanuts circa 1954, Pig-Pen enters the comic strip in a cloud of dust. We don’t know his real name… “I haven’t got a name… people just call me things.” As the dust rises around him, Pig-Pen proudly announces he’s surrounded by the dust of ancient civilizations. He is as perceptive as he is dirty.

dustyLike Pig-Pen engulfed in a cloud of dust, I can’t seem to shake off the dust of Ash Wednesday. Enveloped in a cloud of dust, I’m forced to join him confessing, “You know what I am? I’m a dust magnet!”

Like the ancients, I am also surrounded by another cloud, a “great cloud of witnesses”. And like them, and like Pig-Pen’s seemingly ever-present dust-cloud, I must “lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)

I am a “dust magnet”. I am, we are, Pig-Pen.

Surrounded by this amazing cloud of witnesses, witnesses who share in our humanity, our brokenness, “and the sin that clings so closely”, Pig-Pen reminds me how closely related to the earth we are.

…then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Genesis 2:7-9

I’m etched into the story as I embrace the earth from which I’m formed. I am not God. And yet I’m fashioned in God’s image, the image of the Creator. These realities must be kept in tension. And it’s this tension that grounds us as we walk into the purposes of God. As Christine Sine reminds us, “it’s only in the place of deep contemplation that we often find the resources we need to really be activists.” So I embrace the dust that I am even as I breathe in the breath of God.

And what of this dust from which I am formed? Gazing into the beauty of creation, the imagination of God unleashed dazzles the senses. Yet like this Spirit-infused-dust, the God-painted creation is no longer what it was meant to be. We share the touch of God. We share also the brokenness brought on by humankind’s desire to usurp the place of God.

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. Romans 8:19-23

It is out of these thoughts that this poem was born. It is also out of this contemplation that I wait, watch, anticipate the next steps in the unfolding imagination of God.

urn and ash

remember you are dust
and to dust you shall return
marked with ash of repentance
death
dust of mourning

confronted with our mortality
an urn filled with ash
poured out
scattered over water, earth

anointed
creation groans

expectantly waiting
painfully longing
for the full redemption
of this dust
infused with the breath of God

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Remember You Are Dust

Today’s reflection in the series Return to Our Senses in Lent, comes from Andy Wade, the communications guy at Mustard Seed Associates. Andy also runs the homeless shelter in Hood River Oregon, is a keen gardener and preaches on the side. This reflection comes from his sermon for Ash Wednesday.

ash.wed

Return to our Senses in Lent What does that mean for you? For me, it’s a reminder that I’m not God. To return to my senses is to return to the person God created me to be and to stop trying to orchestrate God’s mission in my life and the world. Let be back up a bit…

For the Western Church, Wednesday marked the beginning of Lent, 40 days of self-examination, of deep reflection, of humility.

One thing that bothers me about Ash Wednesday is the smearing of ashes thing. While there is good, biblical support for acts of repentance marked by ashes, I wrestle with those words, “From dust you were created, to dust you shall return.” Words from the curse after “The Fall” of Adam and Eve in the garden. But haven’t we been redeemed from the curse in Christ Jesus, our Lord!

As I reflected on this, I remembered my own experience of deliverance. For four years I suffered with pretty serious panic attacks. I ended up at the hospital more than once and was actually to the point of not wanting to go out and do things if it meant I would be any distance from emergency help. All that ended one afternoon when a good friend laid hands on me and prayed for my healing. In an instant, the panic attacks were gone – that was over 20 years ago! But that’s not the end of the story. God took away the debilitating panic attacks but did not heal me of generalized anxiety and mild depression. Why was that?

It was also about this time that I heard God’s call into pastoral ministry. I loved studying scripture and even more, discovering all the many threads that tie it all together and reach out to weave us into God’s story. And as I began this new journey I realized why I was not fully healed. It was because I trust too much in myself, my own abilities and my intellect. If God had chosen to fully heal me I would have wandered off into the ministry filled with pride and self-sufficiency. The only way God could use me for his purposes is if I had to trust in God, not in myself.

I believe there’s truth in that story for all of us. The Apostle Paul seemed to see it too, speaking of his “thorn in the flesh”. And whether we like it or not, the effects of sin, that big “S” sin we all participate in all the way back to Adam and Eve, still clings to us like flypaper.

We are redeemed. We are “saved” in Christ Jesus. There’s no doubt about it. But women still suffer in childbirth, we still work by the sweat of our brow, and we all, ultimately, return to dust as death catches up to us. If we’re listening, we are reminded daily of our weaknesses. We are reminded that God never intended us to live lives of self-sufficiency, of pride, of independence – especially from God. We were created for community. We were created for one-another and for God. And the remnants of the curse remind us just how dependent we are.

Shall we wallow in the curse, fearing death and doing whatever we can to hold on to life? Jesus not only teaches us, but lived into, a completely different reality; the reality that in order to truly live, we must die. We must take up our cross daily and follow him. To overcome the sting of death we must embrace it on the cross.

The cross, that symbol of redemption from the curse. That which was meant to take life in the most horrifying and humiliating manner has become for us the symbol of life. And Jesus calls us to not just embrace the cross as a symbol of life, but a way of life. A life of living, loving, sacrifice. A life devoted to God and the purposes of God – which naturally implies a life devoted to loving others even when it appears to cost us everything.

And so we arrive at Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. Ultimately the sin of Adam and Eve, and really of all of us, is that we attempt to usurp the place of God. We forget that We are not in charge, God is. Lent is a time to remember that God is God and without that sweat breath of the Holy Spirit, we are but dust and to dust we shall return.

Lent is also a time to remember how often we get it wrong. Like Jesus’ followers who shout Hosanna in the Highest heaven” as Jesus rides the lowly donkey into Jerusalem – fully expecting some kind of military coup that will restore Israel to its former glory, we often miss what God is really up to. We have our big ideas. But God can and will do even more than we can ask or even imagine!

Lent is a time to remember that Jesus came not for his own glory, but for the life of the world. And when we follow him in life, taking up our crosses daily, we too are to live lives of sacrificial love for one another.

You can be sure that whatever it is that God is up to, it will involve expanding God’s Kingdom purposes – extending the joy of healing, hope, and reconciliation to our friends, neighbors and even the strangers in our community. But the only way we’ll see it is if we embrace our weaknesses, recognize that we are but dust – dust infused with the life-giving breath of God, and walk humbly into the future, trusting fully in our Creator.

So how am I “returning to my senses in Lent”? My new discipline this season it to be keenly aware of my motivations, especially those that usurp the place of God in my life. Part of this discipline will be to intentionally ask for help more often. When I choose not to ask for help, to ask God to reveal to me the underlying motivation behind my “independence”. Sometimes we do need to “go it alone”, but often we don’t. So a follow-up question this season will be, “how does my choice to go it alone affect not just my spiritual well-being, but the spiritual well-being of those around me, my family, friends, and community.

What new, or old, spiritual discipline are you engaging as you walk through these 40 days? We’d love to hear from you!

Prayers for the Journey – Advent prayers for the week

Not surprisingly this week prayers posted at Light for the Journey have focused on Advent and our waiting for the coming of Christ. Lots of beautiful rich prayers about this season of preparation. Enjoy

Bonnie Harr My heart is a Manger

Lord Jesus Christ we await your coming,
We wait filled with hope,
Knowing your light will shine in the darkness.
We wait anticipating your peace,
Believing that one day it will fill our world.
We wait embracing your love,
May we reach out to share it with our neighbours.
We wait with joy,
Bubbling us in expectation of your birth.
Lord we wait,
Come soon and fill us with your life.

Christine Sine 2012

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Let us kneel in the darkness,
Until we see God’s light emerge.
Let us wait with hope filled hearts,
As Christ’s image grows within us and shows us life.
Let him speak to us and teach us love,
Until we open our hearts to be his home.

Christine Sine 2012

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advent

eyes straining to see
dim light, dark glass, confusion
God’s future unfolds

longing, not ready
distracted by life’s worries

how long will I wait?appearing godly
barren soil destroys new life
revealing parched soul

another year gone
unplanned, unprayed, disjointed
all creation waits

advent calls my name
scraping scales of death from eyes
God’s future unfolds

Immanuel

St. Nicholas’ Day, 2009 AFWade

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God be present.001
Advent God,
we journey with you,
to Bethlehem’s stable
and a new-born King,
ears attuned
to the song of angels,
eyes alert
for Bethlehem’s star.
Forgive us
if on our journey

if we are distracted
by the tempting offers
of this world.
Keep our hearts aflame
with the hope
of Christmas,
and the promise
of a Saviour. Amen(www.faithandworship.com)

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Alleluia the Christ child comes,
And we await his birth.
Let us throw off our distractions,
And allow the chaos to settle.
Let us watch for the signs,
And listen to the messengers.

Let us stand on tiptoe,
And shout aloud and sing.
Something new is emerging,
Something new is being birthed.
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The coming of our Lord is near,
And we wait in joyful expectation,
Draw close, Lord Jesus Christ,
Shed your light on all that is filled with darkness.
The coming of our Lord is near,
And we wait with hope filled hearts,
Draw close, God’s beloved son,
Teach us the wonder of your all embracing love.
Christine Sine 2012
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Let us prepare our hearts as we await the coming of our Lord,
Let us watch for the one who heard our cries and shouldered the suffering of our world,
Let us anticipate the coming of Christ’s eternal world with wholeness, reconciliation and plenty for all.
Let us wait in expectation for the day when God’s glory is revealed in all its fullness.
Christine Sine 2012
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The Advent story
of hope and mystery,
anticipation,
preparation,
a kingdom
of this world and the next,
and a king
appearing when we least expect.
Heaven touching earth,
the footsteps of the divine

walking dusty roads
as once they did in Eden,
and a people,
searching for a Saviour
and walking past
the stable.
Open eyes and hearts,
that this might be
an Advent of hope to the world.(www.faithandworship.com)

This is a time for preparation - John Birch