Sunday, December 22, 2013

Joy- The Fruit of Being Loved

In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior. Luke 1: 47 CEB

Deep gladness is there for the taking
Perhaps humor is an easier way to transcendence- since joy can be hard, especially if we're hurting.

I remember a wise friend once said that laughter is God's respite from grief. If you're in a season of grief, you may well find this to be true. In laughter, our body releases endorphins that can ease the pain and make our loss a little more bearable, at least for a time.  

While joy is not the same as happiness, it can't be bad to be happy and joyful. Chesterton once wrote that gratitude is the real measure of happiness. Whenever I see my life as entitlement, my happiness and joy are diminished.  

Losing joy is something we do to ourselves. We begin seeing our lives less and less as a gift and a mercy. We squawk when there's no hot water. We begin to expect privileges and tell ourselves we're deserving. We end up praying the prayer of the Pharisee. (see Luke 18) We say  "there but the grace of God go I," when life regularly challenges our notions of control and power.
When it comes to joy, Mary has got to be the hero. She's the one who teaches us about gift, wonder, surrender, and hope. And her joy lives "in the depths" of her true self! A true and lasting fruit of Holy Spirit, joy is that gift that lives within the depths because of God's amazing love for us!

Out of love God gave us life, and out of love, God lives in us. God is with us when we're at our worst. Even when we don't "feel blessed" and when there's little evidence of anything to be joyful about,  God's love and mercy are there for us- and all the stronger. 

Could it be Jesus had joy in mind when he said there's a treasure in us where neither rust can consume nor moth can destroy? Don't let joy pass you by because it's here for the taking. Jesus said, "Up to now, you have asked nothing in my name. Ask and you will receive so that your joy will be complete." John 16:24 CEB 

Friday, December 20, 2013

Hope- God's True Miracle

The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great assembly of the heavenly forces was with the angel praising God. They said, “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.” Luke 2: 10-14 CEB

"In the snow and cold of winter, there's a spring that waits to be..." UMBOH #707
In exploring hope we can't escape one of gifts God has to give us!  The paper discussing transcendence defines hope as "expecting the best and working to achieve it."

But hope is a core Christian virtue as well. And hope is much more than celebrating Christmas a certain way. It's about what God wants, not just what we want.
So what happens when hope is lost? The Bible includes many instances of human hopes being shattered, or unmet. How about the majority of the people expecting a political deliverer and king, especially disciples like Peter? The mother of the disciples James and John? She wanted something special for her sons for their devotion to Jesus. Paul the Apostle? He prayed "three times" for his disability to be removed.

Isn't all human hope based on incomplete information at best and thus ripe for a let down? Human hope focuses on our limited knowledge and self-centeredness, often blinding us to God's gift of "wonderful, joyous news for all people."

There's a school of pastoral counseling that contends millions suffer from badly damaged hope. God's hope for us is more glorious and wonderful than we can imagine. At the very least, God's peace and favor for our world heals our lives and expands our futures.   

An amazing little story from One Minute Wisdom puts into vivid form a hope and prayer that millions of believers pray when they say "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done..." The truest of miracles and hopes is whenever and wherever we can participate in God's kingdom of peace and favor for all:

 A man traversed land and sea to check
for himself the Master's extraordinary fame.

"What miracles has your master worked?"
he said to a disciple.

"Well, there are miracles and miracles.
In your land it is regarded as a miracle if
God does someone's will. In our country it 
is regarded as a miracle if someone does
the will of God."


Saturday, December 14, 2013


Wonder can lead us to surrender
Then Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.” Then the angel left her. Luke 1:38

-We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
-Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
-Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
Steps 1-3,  Alcoholics Anonymous

Is it easier to surrender to wonder if you trust a higher power such as God? Oprah thinks so. We fear loss of control. In fact, part of what pushes some anxiety disorders, such as Agoraphobia is loss of control. It's not necessarily rational, since there are many situations where we are not in control. Drained of energy and reserves, we attempt the impossible- to manage the unmanageable- life itself.  

The attempt to manipulate others can do serious harm- to others and ourselves. It poisons relationships, and it's why some Christians will never venture back to church. Which is why we need the faith of a Mary- a faith that surrenders what it doesn't know and cannot figure it out. It's why Psalm 139 declares:

Lord, you have examined me.
You know me. You know when I sit down and when I stand up.
Even from far away, you comprehend my plans.
You study my traveling and resting.
You are thoroughly familiar with all my ways.
There isn’t a word on my tongue, Lord,
that you don’t already know completely.
You surround me—front and back.
You lay your hand on me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
I cannot attain it.

There are many things about which we have no or little knowledge. We surrender not just those things over which we have no control, but we realize that, in spite of our denial and best efforts to fix ourselves the way we want, we cannot do that either. And we're even farther away from fixing others. 

Advent is a good time to name what we cannot control, and surrender our lives now, and regularly, to God. I cannot make even the smallest thing of creation, much less sustain it. I'm thinking of the last bright red Maple leaf. Jesus pointed to beaming wildflowers. Matthew 6:28     


Friday, December 13, 2013


A late summer Canadian front sweeps across Lake Erie at dusk. 
Our capacity for appreciation is a function of the "human" brain over the reptilian, at least for the times we choose to exercise our God- given capacity for wonder and appreciation. It's worthy of its description as one of the "transcendent" emotions, because it allows us to be human, to love, to calm down, and better endure difficult times.    

One way to counteract the natural tendency of adaptation to good things (the animal brain) is to make a regular list of all the things which we take for granted.

There are two ways to experience appreciation: one, we practice it daily or, two, we undergo the loss of blessings- and we recognize them after the fact.  Adapting to the good can be countered by intentionally remembering the good in our lives. Psalm 73:25, is instructive here: "Do I have anyone else in heaven?" Or, whom do I have to thank?

Another way to embody appreciation is to relinquish what we cling to as our rights. Instead, see them as favors. 

This works wonders in relationships of all kinds, including marriages. You can become a bucket filler by expressing genuine appreciation to others with whom we live and work. Most healthy relationships need daily three, four, even five more bucket drops than bucket dips, and genuine appreciation is one of the vehicles we have for placing deposits in others.   

A third way to nurture appreciation is discipline ourselves to engage in activities that encourage it.

A brilliant musical performance, a museum that houses great works of art, or a breathtaking sunset can all lift our spirit. In the days when I served as a labor coach/dad for my expectant wife, I was to make sure that her focal point was available, that is, a photo of her beloved kitty cat. Why? Because the sight was comforting and peace-giving to her, even in the most difficult pain of her labor.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Silence- Spiritual Detox

Silence is the child of wonder 
Ecclesiastes counsels that there's a time and place for everything... a time for "keeping silent and a time for speaking." Ecc. 3:7 CEB. One of the ways wonder is expressed is silence, because what are the words that can really describe wonder? We're led to silence, not more words. Silence is God's oft forgotten language.

True worship of God can happen without any words at all. Worship and prayer in the pagan world was known for pouring out the "empty words" Jesus mentions in Matt. 6:7. The mark of idolatry, then and now, is noise and wordiness, in contrast to our silence before God:
Doom to the one saying to the tree, “Wake up!”
        or “Get up” to the silent stone.
Does it teach?
Look, it is overlaid with gold and silver,
        but there is no breath within it. 
 But the Lord is in his holy temple.
 Let all the earth be silent before him.
 -Habakkuk 2: 18-20 CEB. 

If we keep quiet and listen, we might be able to hear what God is speaking to us, what our life is telling us. How else will we ever hear the whispers of the Holy One? Seeing anew with the eyes of wonder and marvel, our truest worship might be in the quiet of a new day, a dark night, or a sunset at Angel Fire (see photo). Along with quiet's theme song for Advent/Christmas, "Silent Night," recall the brilliance of the third verse of O Little Town: 
How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still,
The dear Christ enters in.

Using the tonic of silence, if only for a few minutes at a time, may be like a spiritual detox at first. It's here for the taking, but you have to choose it. The peace of Christ be with you.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Wonder- See God Anew

Holy wonder can give us a break in the "too much" we create
A sense of wonder lifts us out of the anxiety and stress of the holiday season. Wonder is healing and life-sustaining. Other such "transcendent" emotions, such as humor, appreciation, gratitude, and hope can also nurture our spiritual connection with God and others, but wonder seems uniquely organic to the Christmas story. 

Wonder by definition is awe, astonishment, marvel, admiration, reverence. It often comes as the fruit or byproduct of seeing God's life and love revealed to us in a new way. Wonder usually comes with surprise, because it undoes even our best schemes for self-producing happiness.   

Wonder invites us to relinquish our tight gripped illusions of control. It's a sharp counter- balance to our fixation on having, buying, and making for ourselves the perfect Christmas. It's also a correction for all the voices around us and in us, promising us happiness if we only buy or do more. How often do I choose to listen to those false consolations?  

Only with the gift of wonder can we see anew the small and unnoticed things, like a seed growing silently, without hullabaloo, or simple kindnesses, such as a smile, a hug, or a visit. In O Little Town of Bethlehem, there's mention of the angels' watch of "wondering love." Seeing with the eyes of wonder and love may help us experience the presence of God here and now. For even in Advent, God is near and available to us!  (Phil. 4:5)     

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Author Advocates Slow Medicine for Fragile Adults

Katy Butler argues for a new default, a gentler "slow" medicine 

Katy Butler has written a soulful account of long distance care giving, Knocking on Heaven's Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death(2013). Coalescing solid investigative writing and a daughter's story into an engaging narrative, the book is chocked full of resources, references, and hard data, shedding light on how and why many Americans needlessly lose control of their own lives- and deaths.

Needless, not because of inevitable physical decline, but because of the promulgation of "fast" medicine, a practice that, in the frail elderly, ends up failing to cure us from mortality anyway, and dismissing its emotional, spiritual, and economic costs. We are left with curative, technological medicine where the focus is on functioning organs but not human wholeness. 

Her father, Jeff Butler, was implanted with a pacemaker at age 84. Already a survivor of a widely damaging stroke, the family was hurriedly told the device was needed to regulate the slowing and unsteady heart beat and to better survive a hernia surgery. But the known risk never discussed was accelerated cognitive decline, and that appeared within weeks of the operation. Jeff became more incontinent and was nursed at home by spouse Val, Butler's mother, who eventually needed the assistance full time caregivers, first during the day, then, also through the night. But the decision for pacemaker was made in haste, and Butler believes the instrument did more to shorten Val's life and prolong her father's death than allowing them their last quality months together. 

Feeling that the pacemaker was only there to delay the inevitable, Butler and her mother tried in vain to have it deactivated, but no cardiologist would consent. On Jeff's death bed, the pacemaker kept doing its job, an absurdity. Val, exhausted from being the primary caregiver to her husband in his extended decline, refused a risky open heart surgery to repair an injured heart valve for herself,  dying within two years of Jeff's death.  

Fast medicine, with its dependence on devices of all sorts, began showing up in the 1950's, but exploded in the 1960's with the new capital that was available from Medicare and Medicaid. The pacemaker got its start as a temporary, external device that was invented to keep its beneficiaries alive in a dire emergency. Butler maintains that the external pacemaker is still available for surgical patients -without the need for an implanted one. Too, there are now guidelines from device manufacturers and physicians that allow for deactivation of internal pacemakers.

We could say the the pacemaker is the tip of the iceberg of "fast" medicine's fixation on high cost, technological machinery. However, the author warns us that the prevailing system of fast medicine in the U.S., at least for the frail aged, can easily have a boomerang effect of hastening disability, rather than slowing it down. Therefore, carefully weigh all procedures that require a general anesthesia, however routine and "minor." When you can, think about using a local. 

The author maintains that employing a team focused on palliative- not curative care- can be one way to maintain a path to a better death. The way might be easier if you remain at home since nursing facilities' first option are to call 911 if a resident has collapsed, regardless of a DNR you may have executed.  This, even in light of the fact that a minuscule 3% of nursing residents actually survive more than a few days, if they are successfully resuscitated at all.

Butler suggests a new 811 number (in addition to 911 of course) for responding with comfort, safety, and pain care- a number to call to avoid being hooked up to machines. She promotes a two year palliative care option and that it allow for more than the weekly nursing limit which now exists under hospice. She advocates enhanced payments for those who know us best: our primary care doctors. These are the medical providers who offer the best hope of a better way, according to Butler. 

Caregiving is a spiritual journey, and this facet is explored with sensitivity and authenticity. All our close relationships, especially those with our parents and siblings, bring our loss and grief into sharper focus. Adult children can find non-judgmental ways to support and encourage their parents and each other, even if they are not the heavy lifter. Butler, a Buddhist by faith tradition, shares how the Zen practice of meditation was a source of peace and serenity for her and her mother in Jeff's decline and in their continuing grief.

Toward this end of acceptance, readers are encouraged to find our way, to know we have real choices, and that the road we travel is shared by millions of adult children today.   

Monday, December 2, 2013

Measuring Spiritual Strength

Find out how often you become disturbed in the course of a single day. 
 Anthony De Mello, One Minute Wisdom 

Oldies but Goodies