Not Embarrassed to Share About Death

Scott Simon with his mother – via Today news

In the last couple of days several people have sent me links to NPR host Scott Simon’s tweet feed about the death of his mother. Like me he has not been embarrassed to share openly the pain, the tears and the heartache of these final days. I read and cried through this poignant article of how his mother became the collective mother to 1.2 million people who followed Scott on twitter, finding great comfort in what he shared. Many of his followers I suspect remembered their own moments of loss and grief as they read what he wrote. Some I am sure will be better able to cope with death in the future as a result.

I too have been amazed by the comfort others find in my journey. It makes me realize how important it is to share these types of events. We are all vulnerable people, so afraid of death, embarrassed to share how deeply it scars us, afraid to admit the ache it leaves inside us. We go to great lengths to hide from it and to hide it from the world. Yet it is one of the few certainties of life.

Thank you for continuing to share this journey with me. I still have no idea how long my mother’s final journey will take. I would like it to be quick, I don’t want to see her suffer, but I also realize it is in God’s hands. Thank you for your prayers and support and comments – they are much appreciated.

It is Hard to Watch Your Mother Die

Cutting the birthday cake

Cutting the birthday cake

I am sitting here in the hospital beside my Mother’s bed watching her life slowly ebb away.  It is only a month since our joyous celebration of her 90th birthday. Just after we left she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and her condition has declined rapidly.

It is the hardest but in some ways the most important thing I have ever done. I am now staying at the hospital sleeping on a couch beside her bed. Sometimes I read to her or recite her favourite poems. Sometimes I hug her and assure her of my love. She is still conscious and I thank God for these precious last days with her.

It hard to watch your mother die,

To watch the spark that gave me life

Grow dim.

To see the much loved face

Grow gaunt and lose its smile.

To hold the hands

That once held me in love

And try to comfort through the tears.

It is hard to watch a mother die,

To watch this last hard journey

Grow harder every day.

To know I will not share

Tomorrow’s moments of delight

Until I too prepare to cross the veil,

And on the other side

Find once more that loving smile.

The Spiritual Practice of Gratitude

Let Us Give Thanks

Let Us Give Thanks

One thing I love about living in the U.S. is the celebration of Thanksgiving. I tell people that there is no equivalent in Australian culture – we just aren’t very grateful people. (just joking). Not surprisingly, this month’s Synchroblog theme invites writers to share their thoughts on gratitude as a spiritual practice.

It’s easy during the month of November to think about thankfulness. A lot of us will probably in some way, shape or form, say “I’m thankful for…” this month. But gratitude is much more than a feeling or something we talk about around the holidays. Gratitude can also be a powerful spiritual practice that opens our hearts to the rhythm of giving and receiving that is the heartbeat of life itself. Many believe the spiritual practice of gratitude not only has the ability to transform us as individuals but can also change the world we live in. However, like so many other spiritual practices, it takes intention and focus.

What do you think about gratitude as a spiritual practice? How would one go about practicing gratitude as a spiritual exercise? What are you learning about gratitude? What practices help draw you to gratitude? How is your experience with God deepening through gratitude? What benefits does the spiritual practice of gratitude offer to you, others, the world?

I have posted a number of liturgies, prayers and posts for Thanksgiving in the past including this one, but it is always great to get new perspectives.

Here are the links to the posts that have been contributed. Great food for reflection before Thanksgiving day next week.

The Stability of Practice

The joy of journalling

The joy of journalling

Yesterday Tom and I had breakfast at Chanterelles restaurant in Edmonds then drove down to the waterfront and looked out over the Puget Sound and the Olympic mountains while we journalled and shared about our week. This has been an important part of the rhythm of our life for many years but over this summer with the busyness of attending Wild Goose, Creative World Festival, the Celtic retreat and other commitments, we have had to let it slide. As we sat and journalled yesterday a deep peace settled into my soul. I need this I thought. I am incomplete without it.

We hear a lot today about the importance of stability of place. I wish we talked as much about the stability of practice. Regular daily, weekly and yearly practices that restore our bodies, our souls and our spirits are essential for all of us and I don’t think we realize how much the loss of these impacts us. I love to sit each morning in my office looking out towards the mountains while I pray. This morning I notice that the big maple tree I can see is touched with tones of red. Autumn is definitely here. It is also the harvest season, the time to pick and process apples (Tom and I picked 100 lb from our trees on Saturday), to make marinara sauce from the tomatoes, store the winter squash and generally get ready for a season when there is no fresh, local food available.

What are the equivalent practices in my spiritual life I wonder? This summer has been a busy season of ministry, a good season of growth and productivity. How am I now getting ready for the winter blasts? What spiritual food am I storing up for the coming season of dark? Getting back into our weekly rhythm of journalling and check in time is obviously part of that. Going away on one of our quarterly spiritual retreats is another.  Walking around Greenlake with Tom and our dog Bonnie talking, praying and drinking in the beauty of creation is another. These are some of the practices that help me store up the spiritual nutrients I need to see me through the dark season of my life.

This is obviously not the first time that I have blogged about this. The information in this post How Do We Find Stability in a Changing World? is some that I have found particularly valuable over the years. So much of my life has been spent in unstable living situations. Most of these suggestions came from my twelve years on the Mercy Ship Anastasis when my only stable reference point was a moving object in the middle of the sea.

This is a good season to evaluate your spiritual lives as I suggest in this post: Have You Taken A Spiritual Audit Lately? and you might want to evaluate the rhythms that are important to you. What are your equivalents of daily prayer, weekly journalling and quarterly retreats? How do they provide stability for your spirit?

 

 

Prayers for the Journey

Flower seller - Pike Place market

Flower seller – Pike Place market

 

I am just back from the Pike Street Market, one of my favourite places in Seattle. The flower sellers are everywhere, lifting my spirits with the vibrant beauty of their bouquets which inspired the first of these prayers. If you would like to receive these prayers each day on facebook you can sign up here

Glory be O God almighty, glory be.

Glory be O Christ redeemer, glory be.

Glory be O Spirit advocate, glory be.

Glory to the One who loves us,

Glory to the One who cares,

Glory to the One who hears us,

Glory be.

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Lord Jesus Christ, let the wonder of your love shine forth,

Let the beauty of your image emerge,

Let us magnify your greatness,

And bless the One,

who has given us new birth into a living hope.

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May faith go before us,

May hope reside within us,

May love always surround us.

All else will pass,

These three will remain,

And the greatest of these is love.

(From meditating on 1 Corinthians 13)

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God may I gaze on you and find myself,

May my eye be focused and my body full of light.

May I move forward with the joy of your presence before me,

And the wonder of your love ever within me.

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Let us welcome the good news of the kingdom,

and stand firm in its wonderful truths.

Let us follow its path and not stumble,

And see in it the unfailing love of our Lord.

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Lord Jesus Christ you are the way,

May we turn our our face toward you,

And grow in the beauty of your light.

No apologies for the fact that this is derived from the prayer I wrote yesterday (see below):

Christ is the centre and circumference,

Christ is the way and the destination,

Christ is the beginning and the end.

Before, behind, within, without,

Christ is God’s gift of life and love.

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May the centre of all things be Christ,

May the way of all things be Christ,

May the truth of all things be Christ,

Behind, before, within, without,

May the life of all things be Christ.

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Cooking with Quinoa

Quinoa - a versatile grain

Quinoa – a versatile grain

For our time on Camano on Monday I made a delicious quinoa salad and thought that you might appreciate the recipe. Quinoa has the most protein of any grain,and the highest fat content. It’s a great source of vitamins & minerals, and is considered a complete protein so if you are not familiar with this grain then you need to be. I particularly love a mix of red, black and white quinoa if you can find it. (available here at Trader Joes or as separate grains at PCC).

Quinoa originated in the Andean region of Bolivia, Peru, Equador and Columbia where it has been cultivated for 3-4,000 years. It seems to grow well here in the Pacific NW though I do not grow it because of lack of space. – maybe when we get the garden at the Mustard Seed Village going.

I enjoy it both as a hot vegetable – great for adding stir fry vegetables from the garden – or as a salad. It is really great for a picnic as it stays fresh without refrigeration. This recipe is like Tabbouleh but with quinoa instead of bulgar wheat. You can in fact use any vegetables in the salad – the one I made on Monday had mainly greens, peas and onions from the garden.

Quinoa Salad

INGREDIENTS:

– 2 cups Quinoa
– 2 cups Parsley,Coarsely Chopped
– 1/2 cup Fresh Mint,Coarsely Chopped
– 2 lbs. Tomatoes,Chopped
– 1 lg Cucumber,Chopped
– 2 md Sweet Onion,Chopped
– 3/4 cups Olive Oil
– 3/4 cups Lemon Juice
– 2 sm Yellow Zucchini,Chopped
– 1 each Garlic,Crushed

METHOD:

1. Bring 4 cups water to a boil. Add quinoa and cook covered for 15 minutes. Turn off and let stand. Fluff with a fork and allow to cool. Add tomatoes, cucumber, squash, onion, parsley, and mint. Mix well Add remaining ingredients and miz again. Let stand for at least an hour before serving.

Quinoa stir fry

INGREDIENTS:

– 4 cups cooked quinoa
– 1 stalks celery
– 1 sweet bell pepper, chopped in small pieces
– 1/2 cup cooked chickpeas
– 1 large onion, chopped in small pieces
– 1 cup mushrooms, chopped
– 1 green zucchini , sliced
– 1 yellow zucchini , sliced
– 2 cups swiss chard or spinach, chopped
– 1/2 cup dried tomatoes
– 3 cloves garlic, minced
– 1 tablespoon olive oil
– 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
– 1/2 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
– 1 bay leaf
– 1/2 teaspoon tumeric
– 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
– 1/2 teaspoon cumin
– 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme
– 1/2 teaspoon salt
METHOD:

1. Heat olive oil on medium low in a 3 – 4 qt saucepan or sauté pan. Saute onions until translucent add garlic & ginger, sauté with mustard seeds for 5 minutes

2. Chop celery, zucchini, mushrooms and red pepper, add to pan and sauté another five minutes.

3. Mix in the bay leaf, turmeric, coriander &; cumin

4. Add the quinoa and stir until mixed.

5. Stir in the optional greens, and fresh ground pepper

6. Cover and cook 5 more minutes, then serve – or refrigerate and serve chilled as a salad.

Ten Books That Changed My Faith

Sarah Bessey - books that changed my faith

Sarah Bessey – books that changed my faith

Sarah Bessey is currently running a series of posts on Ten Books A Day for a Week. I particularly enjoyed her Sunday post Ten Books That Changed my FaithSarah and I have obviously been influenced by some of the same books but I thought that I would put together my own list. To be honest it would be easier to list 10 authors that have influenced me because choosing one book from people such as Wlater Brueggemann, C.S. Lewis, John Stott and Henri Nouwen is impossible. However I have done my best.

Living Towards a Vision: Biblical reflections on Shalom. Walter Brueggemann. I love all of Bruggemann’s books but this was the one that started me grappling with a faith that not only embraced all of life for me as an individual but also God’s concern for the renewal and restoration of all creation.

Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. As for so many other evangelical Christians, this was the first book that opened my eyes to a rich array of spiritual disciplines that i had never encountered before.

Rich Christians In An Age of Hunger by Ron Sider. I read the original version of this book just after I had worked in the refugee camps on the Thai Cambodian border in 1985. I had been exposed to depths of poverty I never realized existed. it turned my faith upside down. This book helped turn it right side up again challenging me to put concern for others and particularly the marginalized at the centre of my faith.

Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life by Henri Nouwen, Donald McNeill and Douglas Morrison. This was the first Nouwen book that I read, this time after working with Haitian refugees in the Dominican Republic. It is not always easy to act compassionately we we work with people in need. This book helped shape my responses.

One Thousand Gifts: by Ann Voskamp. The power of gratitude is a revolutionary discovery that has transformed my life over the last few of years and this is the book that has most helped me learn that perspective.

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. This is a Christian classic that was very influential in shaping my faith in my early days as a Christian.

Basic Christianity by John Stott. This was another of the classic books that shaped my early faith giving me a solid foundation in scripture and the principles of faith.

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. This may seem like a strange book to have shaped my Christian faith but I read it in the mid 1960s not long after I became a Christian and the concerns it raised about pesticides and pollution radically impacted me and initiated my concerns for the environment which gradually became an important part of my Christian world view and advocacy.

What’s Right with Feminism by Elaine Storkey. This was the first book I read that made me feel that being a Christian woman did not make me a second class citizen. It gave me the confidence to pursue what God had called me to be and to do.

Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church by N.T. Wright. Again here is an author who has deeply influenced my life and it is hard to choose which book has influenced me the most, but I think this one is at the top of the list. So I thought that I would end with a quote from the book

Our task as image-bearing, God-loving, Christ-shaped, Spirit-filled Christians, following Christ and shaping our world, is to announce redemption to a world that has discovered its fallenness, to announce healing to a world that has discovered its brokenness, to proclaim love and trust to a world that knows only exploitation, fear and suspicion… 

Life As Prayer by Roy Goble

This morning’s post is the first in the series Lord Teach Us To PrayIt is written by Roy Goble the owner of the family real estate investment firm Goble Properties.  He is also the President of PathLight International, which serves at-risk youth by providing educational opportunities that integrate faith and learning.  Roy is a Trustee of Westmont College, Chair of the Board for The SOLD Project, and is founder of several non-profit organizations.  He and his wife D’Aun live in Pleasanton, California.  You can read more about Roy at www.junkyardwisdom.com where this post first appeared and follow him on twitter at @roygoble.

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Many years ago, when I was far younger than today, I was interviewing a person for an important leadership position at a ministry. He was about my age and I asked him to describe his prayer life. He answered, “My life is a prayer.”

That’s all he said. I sat there waiting for him to elaborate. He didn’t.

Curious, I asked the typical follow-up questions. How do you do that? What does it look like? Are there exercises to follow? How can you attain such intimacy with God at such a young age? I wanted an answer that helped me understand how it was even possible. But he basically shrugged and said, “It just is. I can’t really explain it.”

Frankly, the answer made me nervous about this candidate. A conversation with wiser friends calmed me as they explained how different faith traditions view prayer in different ways. Eventually we hired him and he worked for many years with the organization.

But I still think about his response. Or more accurately, I think about living a life in such a way that it is pure prayer. How is it that every thought, action, and breath reflects such a spiritual richness?

A simple poem by Fr Gilbert Shaw sets up the question:

Prayer
is the turning of our whole mind,
our whole being,
towards God.

I want that, of course.  It sounds wonderful. But how do you get it? The idea of a life that is prayer sounds great but seems impossible. A part of the mosaic within my brain understands that there is no definitive methodology, but my linear side is completely frustrated by that.

This is very Western of me, I’m told.  And I agree that it is. But that doesn’t answer my question.  Besides, the Western faith tradition has a long history of mystics and poets who found great joy in struggling with the incomprehensible idea of living a life of prayer.  Brother Lawrence and his pots and pans comes to mind. Learning from those who walked down this path before me has been helpful … to a point.

Shaw also writes:

The purpose of living is not to learn to make prayer,
but to become prayer; to live in and for God
according to the divine call, wholly surrendered to
the Spirit’s activity in the soul for the glory of God.

That’s somewhat more helpful because it equates the idea with something we become. It’s an action. But what action? I keep coming back to the desire for something tangible. It all seems like hard mental work to figure this stuff out, and I would rather just not think about it.

But then that’s the point where I stop and smile. I have learned that we need to be thinking about it. God likes it when we wrestle with such things.

Over time I have come to understand that this struggle to understand is exactly what God wants. My life is prayer only when it is a life of longing for God. The mental sweat that comes from striving to grow spiritually is part of connecting with God’s heart. And God considers it pure joy to meet us in that place.

Or said another way, what we find to be work may well be what God finds to be praise.

Prayers for The Journey

earth touches heaven

Earth touches heaver – photo by Coe Hutchison

This weekly roundup of facebook prayers has been fun for me to review – not hard to tell that I am writing a book on prayer as an exercise in love

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My good friend Tom Balke just sent me this link to “pray as you go”. It is a beautiful meditative prayer (takes about 10 minutes) offered by Jesuit Media Initiatives. It is well worth a listen but make sure you take the time to go through the whole meditation. www.prayasyougo.org

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Let each breath that you take breathe in God

Let each step that you make live for God

Let each word that you say glorify the One who fills our world with life and love

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Let the love of God soak into your heart,

Let the peace of God soak into your soul,

Let the life of God soak into your spirit,

May they transform you and make you whole.

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Jesus teach us to pray as you did,

Not in thought and speech but in truth and action,

Jesus teach us to love as you did,

In compassion and mercy, with patience and kindness,

Jesus teach to live as you did,

Considering the needs of others as more important than your own.

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Let us love as God loves with forgiveness and restoration

Let us love as Christ loves with compassion and mercy

Let us love as the Spirit loves with truth and action

Let us join the Triune God who is love

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Lord Jesus Christ may we call each other into life and hope,

May we learn always of your love unveiled through the life of others,

And respond to your wisdom expressed through the most unlikely people.

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Jesus may we sit in your presence today

And absorb the inner world of God.

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Prayer – Practicing the Presence of Love

good samaritan - van gogh

good samaritan - van gogh

This morning I have been thinking about what it means to practice the presence of a God who is love. We know that the central commandment Jesus gave to the disciples was to ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and soul and to love your neighbour as yourself’. It is so simple yet so profound that we spend our entire lives trying to understand and live into its meaning.

Paul begins his great discourse on love by saying “let me show you a way of life that is best of all.” (1 Corinthians 12:31 NLT) What gives me great hope is the transformation that has taken place in Paul’s life. We first meet him as a fire breathing, killer of Christ’s followers. Now he has learned what love is all about.

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. (1 Cor 13: 4-7 via biblegateway.com)

We see the same transformation in John’s life. He who was known as a son of thunder becomes the apostle of love. His gospel and his letters provide a wonderful glimpse into what the love of God looks like.

If we love our Christian brothers and sisters, it proves that we have passed from death to life. But a person who has no love is still dead. 15 Anyone who hates another brother or sister is really a murderer at heart. And you know that murderers don’t have eternal life within them. 16 We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person? 18 Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.

Interestingly when we reach out to others with love and compassion our own ability to love grows. I have mentioned before that I was born 2 months prematurely and spent the first month of my life in hospital. Separated from my mother’s love I built a wall between myself and others. For much of my childhood I felt that a glass wall separated me from my family and friends. Then I became a Christian and the wall began to give way. It didn’t shatter in one fell swoop but it did slowly break down. What broke it down more than anything else was my reaching out to others who had even deeper needs than I did. The support of friends who loved me also eroded its walls.

Isaiah 58: 6-12 has become my life verse, because it is my life story.

“No, this is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
and remove the chains that bind people.
Share your food with the hungry,
and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
and do not hide from relatives who need your help.

“Then your salvation will come like the dawn,
and your wounds will quickly heal.
Your godliness will lead you forward,
and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind.
Then when you call, the Lord will answer.
‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply.

“Remove the heavy yoke of oppression.
Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors!
10 Feed the hungry,
and help those in trouble.
Then your light will shine out from the darkness,
and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.
11 The Lord will guide you continually,
giving you water when you are dry
and restoring your strength.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like an ever-flowing spring.
12 Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities.
Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls
and a restorer of homes. (NLT via Biblegateway.com)

Reaching out to others has healed my wounds to. Learning to love others has made me more lovable (at least that’s what they tell me) and in the midst I have discovered the presence of a God whose love is so deep and so enduring that it will never leave me.