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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Giving Up by Jim Fisher

Today’s reflection in the series Return to Our Senses in Lent comes from Jim Fisher. Jim tells me he has no credentials. He has no degree. He is the author of no books. He has never attended a seminary. But he does love his journey of faith and loves to write stories he calls Holy Hugs. It’s not really a blog, but rather a collection of stories and reflections that he hopes nourish and inspire the right side of your brain in this crazy left-brained world.

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Pathway

Phew! What a journey this is! I need to take a detour off this trail, plop myself on the beach up ahead beyond the edge of the trees. I need to take off my shoes and dig my toes and my sit-bones into the warm sand. Dear Lord, rest my soul, rest my body. I need a break.

I close my eyes and allow the sun to warm my face and the upturned palms of my hands. My index fingers lightly touch my thumbs. The sound of the breaking waves off in the distance fills me with a mysterious and profound peace. I am alone … but not really.

It is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. I have to give something up. I do this every year. What should it be? TV? Nope. Already did that … fifteen years ago … never to return. Chocolate? Desserts? Nope. No sugar for me, thanks. I’m hypoglycemic. Beer? Wine? Maybe. Facebook? The Internet? Maybe. The Seven Deadlies: Wrath, Greed, Sloth, Pride, Lust, Envy, Gluttony? What shall it be?

Idolatry?

Maybe.

But why?

Ostensibly I go without to remind me of my lack, my separation from God; to remind me of the hole in my soul that yearns to be filled to its fullest; to remind me of the hole that yearns to be whole.

So I empty myself of something for a season to remind me of the gap that exists between who I am and who God is. I am on this walk because I feel that gap between myself and God. I am seeking Jesus to fill that gap. I am worshiping the One who can make me whole. It’s like the picture of the two cliffs with me on one side and God on the other with a chasm in between. Only Christ can fill that gap.

Right?

Idolatry is when I try to replace God with success, good looks, fortune, youth, or fame. Pick whatever you seek. Pick whatever you think you lack. Pick your gap. Pick your Idol. Place it on the other cliff and our society will supply a seemingly endless variety of products and advice promising to bridge you over to your goal. I get that. I feel those gaps.

But I also feel a gap between myself and Love, but my inability to love perfectly is different somehow. I do not approach Love as an object beautiful and sublime in itself on the opposite cliff. I do not approach Love as if it was an Idol to be worshiped. Love is not like that. Love does not say, “Look at me!”

Rather, it invites me to regard others through its lens.

In fact, Love invites me to regard all of Creation through the lens of the Holy Spirit – through the lens of Godly Love. Perfect Love is within me because the Holy Spirit is within me. But wait a minute. If God is Love, how does this fit into the metaphor? What am I really reaching for?

As I hold my face to the sun, I feel The Holy Spirit sprinting down the beach toward me. She stops. She sits facing me, gathers my hands into hers, washes her breath across my soul and whispers into my heart, “You are my beloved. Love who you are, my dear. Love who you were created to be. Open yourself to Love and allow me to seep into every corner of your Being. The One who you reach for has already has taken up residence within you. But the goal is not as you imagined. There actually is no chasm between us. We are becoming as one. I have been here since you began your walk down this path and accepted God’s Son into your life. Hold my hand. Embrace me. Give me a hug, you fool! Allow me to live through you. Arise and continue your journey, dear friend, knowing that your completeness and joy comes more out of the journey than any imagined destination.”

Oh. Wait. Now I see it. The two cliffs are merging. The two are becoming one. The metaphor is starting to dissolve and fade away. And, yes, I understand that the two will never actually become one. I will never become God. That’s not the point. The joy arises from the imperfect eternal becoming like Christ, not the perfect oneness.

As the Holy Spirit nestles herself anew into my soul, I arise, brush the sand off my pants, and continue my journey, but now it has taken on a different feel, in a way. There is a dance in my heart and a spring in my step. I am practicing speaking through Love, seeing through Love, hearing through Love, touching through Love. I am a new creation (again!).

I am starting to look through Love with wide-eyed anticipation and joy, and all of Creation starts to look a little differently through its lens.

Perfect Love does not need to be reached or accepted to work through me. It is not an end-point in itself. It is something I drink in and splash around as best I can. I hope you don’t mind.

And, too …

Love does not operate in isolation.

Love does not expect to be doted on.

Love does not even need to be understood.

What we believe about Love makes no difference. What we do through Love makes all the difference in the world.

So what stuff am I giving up for Lent? Nothing, actually, and yet everything, in a way. I am giving up and giving in – giving up on a metaphor that depicts a distant god and giving in to the God who is already within me.

Oh, Lord! I am going to need help with this! Cause your lavish, liquid Love to infuse every cell in my body and every dark corner of my soul. May it seep into every thing and every one I touch. May it filter everything I see and hear. May it harmonize with everything I speak. And may it float beneath everything I write.

… and not just for the next forty days.

Amen.

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!

A Reflection for Ash Wednesday 2013

IMG_0339

Playing for the ashes… it conjures up for many of us (at least from the British Commonwealth) the test cricket match between Australia and England, probably one of the most fiercely fought international games.  But that is not what I am writing about here.  The ashes that I am thinking of have nothing to do with a game but with Ash Wednesday which ushers in probably the most serious event of history – Jesus final days and his walk towards the Cross.

For many of us today (yes it is already Ash Wednesday in Australia) marks the beginning of a personal journey too as we join Jesus in his final days. Unfortunately many of us treat the season of Lent like a game – more like the cricket match called the Ashes than like the serious turn around time it is meant to be.  We come to the season with a list of trivial things we intend to give up – TV, video games, chocolate, but most of us don’t really take the season seriously or use it as a time to dig deeply into our hearts to sweep out the corners in which sin has accumulated.

Burning the ashes

Burning the ashes

The ashes used in church services on Ash Wednesday are traditionally made by burning the Palm Sunday crosses from the previous year so this year I decided to experiment. My Palm Sunday cross from last year was still sitting in my office, so I burnt it, reminding myself that the repentance I seek at this season is only possible because of the incomprehensible gift of Christ and his death on a cross 2,000 years ago. 

Burning my Palm Sunday cross had a big impact on me. It reminded me that the crucifixion is not really meant to be the focus of our mourning and fasting. We mourn and fast not because we are heading to the cross but because we want to shed all that disrupts our intimate walk with God. We look beyond the cross to the life of God’s kingdom. Asking myself what still needs to be repented of and transformed in  my life so that I can be an effective citizen of God’s resurrection created world is probably the most important question of Lent. I want to become all that God intends me to be. I want to leave behind all that prevents me from becoming that person. I want to thirst for righteousness and hunger for justice rather than for water and food.

Clean Monday, Fat Tuesday, Ash Wednesday – What’s It All About?

Pancake celebration Salisbury Cathedral http://www.salisburycathedral.org.uk

Pancake celebration Salisbury Cathedral http://www.salisburycathedral.org.uk

Shrove Tuesday is the day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent in the Western Church. “Shrove” is the past tense of the word “shrive,” which means to hear a confession, assign penance, and absolve from sin. Shrove Tuesday is a reminder that we are entering a season of penance.

Shrove Tuesday is also known as Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras (which is simply French for Fat Tuesday). In Italy, Fat Tuesday is known as carnevale-goodbye to meat-from which we get our English word carnival. Traditionally people held one last rich feast, using up perishables like eggs, butter and milk before the fast of Lent began. Now in some places, like New Orleans, this has become a huge celebration that really has nothing to do with the beginning of Lent.

For many however this is still a significant day. Many churches hold pancake suppers, often as a way to reach out to their neigbours. You can find a great collection of recipes and traditions from around the world for Shrove Tuesday in Fat Tuesday Recipes.

For Eastern Orthodox Christians the fast has already begun. Clean Monday, the Monday before Ash Wednesday, is the first day of Great Lent. It is a reminder that we should begin Lent with good intentions and a desire to clean our spiritual house. It is a day of strict fasting for Eastern Catholics and orthodox, including abstinence not only from meat but from eggs and dairy products as well.

The following prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian is a common prayer used during this season.

O Lord and Master of my life, keep from me the spirit of indifference and discouragement, lust of power and idle chatter. [kneel/prostration]

Instead, grant to me, Your servant, the spirit of wholeness of being, humble-mindedness, patience, and love. [kneel/prostration]

O Lord and King, grant me the grace to be aware of my sins and not to judge my brother; for You are blessed now and ever and forever. Amen. [kneel/prostration]

Ash Wednesday – Mourning the Death Sin Has Caused in Our Lives

Jesus helped by Simon

Journey thorugh Lent beyond the cross to resurrection

Ash Wednesday ranks with Good Friday as one of the busiest days on my blog. For many of us these days mark the beginning and ending of a journey as we walk with Jesus through the final days of his life to the cross. However the cross is not really meant to be the focus of our mourning and fasting. We mourn and fast not because we are heading to the cross but because we are wanting to shed all the hinderances that keep us from an intimate walk with God.

Lent is about looking beyond the cross to the life of God’s kingdom. Asking myself what still needs to be repented of and transformed in  my life so that I can be an effective citizen of God’s resurrection created world is probably the most important question of Lent.

I want to become all that God intends me to be. I want to leave behind all that hinders me from becoming that person. I want to thirst for righteousness and hunger for justice rather than for water and food as I wrote in the prayer I posted yesterday for the first Sunday of Lent .

It is not an easy journey, but then neither was Jesus journey through the cross to resurrection.

Ash Wednesday Prayer 2012

Ash Wednesday cross

Next Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. There is still time to sign up to contribute to the series Easter is Coming: What Do We Hunger and Thirst For?  or if you may like to sign up to follow this blog and receive notification each time a new Lenten reflection is added. This series will provide daily meditations throughout Lent with additional prayers and liturgies being added for Sunday worship.

This morning’s prayer is written for Ash Wednesday. You may also like to check out previous prayers for 2011 and 2010.

Another prayer for Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday Prayer 2011

Ash Wednesday Prayer 2010

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Jesus come and save us,

We are but dust, 

We are like ashes,

but you can touch our unclean souls.

Jesus come and forgive us,

Our hearts are heavy,

Our burdens are great,

Cleanse us with the water of life.

Jesus come and heal us,

Restore our sight,

Teach us truth,

Speak to us words that bring us wholeness.

Jesus touch us with your heart of love,

Cleanse us with the water of life,

Restore our sight that we may see, 

Teach us truth that we may lead Godly lives.