abundant life in the darkness

We were 20 minutes out from Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport when the pilot came on the speaker with the routine update for passengers. He dutifully reported the balmy conditions that awaited us – even at 10:30 at night, the temperature would be 80 degrees. I fly enough to know the temperature reading is usually followed with a report about the cloud cover, something central to a pilot’s world, but not necessarily to mine. But this time the report made me pause: “Visibility is endless.”

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I looked out the window. It was dark. Really dark. I could see tiny lights on the ground that marked the outer band of development of this sprawling city. But mostly, I could see nothing. Endless visibility? Hardly.

Darkness and visibility don’t go together. Or do they?

The practice of contemplative prayer invites us to quiet our minds, set our egos aside for a moment, and lean back (as Tilden Edwards says) into our spiritual hearts. But when we do – when we actually release the images and ideas and random thoughts that pop into our minds, what’s left is darkness. Just me and my emptiness. And that doesn’t feel great. The darkness we meet on the inside is far scarier than much of the darkness we face in our everyday lives. I long for the light of my thoughts, the brightness of my carefully constructed ego with all of its success and pride and satisfaction in what I’ve built around me. I grasp for ideas and solutions that flow through my mind, eager to climb back out of the abyss.

And yet when I’m able, for whatever reason, to let go, to release what I’m clinging to, to fall into that darkness within, I discover something incredible. That the visibility IS endless. In the darkness, I can see Love. In the darkness, I can see Peace. In the darkness, I can see New Life. 

I’m grateful for the gift of the darkness. I’m grateful for the courage to let go and let the darkness close around me. Because when I release all I have collected to make me feel safe and loved and powerful, I discover true security, true love, true power in the arms of the Divine Creator and Lover of us all. Thanks be to God for the discovery of abundant life in the darkness.

abundant love in the bounty of seasons

The first time I saw the tree, it was in the spring. I was here, at Bon Secours Retreat and Conference Center, Marriottsville, MD, in May of last year for our first Residency. In between the breaks of our very intense learning about contemplative prayer and leading groups and retreats, I would wander the grounds, reveling in the abundance of blooms. So much was flowering at that time: dogwoods and daffodils, azaleas and crocus. There were colors and blossoms everywhere I looked. The abundance filled me with awe at God’s creativity in living Technicolor.

I don’t know why I fell in love with this particular tree. Perhaps it was the way the branches leaned out over the water, as if wanting to go for a swim. Maybe it was the little birdhouse hung on the lowest branch. Whatever the reason, I was drawn to this tree, and experienced several poignant moments meditating on its beauty.

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Now it is winter. Late winter, to be sure, but still winter, as proven by last night’s snowstorm. We awoke this morning to the quiet beauty of new fallen snow. And I was called to explore! I had brought most of my snow gear from Flagstaff in the hopes that I would actually need it, and so I plunged into the crisp morning, reveling in the stillness. As I came around the lake, I recognized my tree, still standing proudly, with branches arched out over the small lake. And even though the landscape was void of color – covered entirely in white – the beauty took my breath away.

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The branches were bare of leaves and gently balanced the snowfall as gift and treasure. The buds that were just beginning to form spoke to me of the promise of spring, suspended in the reality of this last storm of the season (some would hope.) And in that suspension, there is the hope of transformation. Spring is promised, but not yet present. And yet the tree waits, heavy with the burden of reality while also pregnant with possibility.

Here is abundant life – that trees and bushes and creatures and all of us are held in that waiting time. That while we long for the transformation to come, we are supported and nurtured and guided by the Eternal Love that birthed all of creation. And so no matter what season of living you are experiencing – growth, death, birth, waiting – know that you are held by the One who holds all of creation in love. And in that certainty, you can live out your abundant life!

Abundant life through creativity

I experienced the bounty of a silent retreat this weekend. Such an incredible experience in so many ways. The theme centered on God’s creative Spirit working in and through us, and so there were several opportunities to stretch ourselves in new ways.

I don’t consider myself artsy, but since this was using art as a method of prayer, I jumped right in. I was drawn to the art form of making collages. It was amazing to be able to express the insights floating around in my head in a new and simple way! I just looked for images that spoke to me and cut and pasted. I even got to play with a little roller bar to get all the air bubbles out- way fun!

I created several collages throughout the weekend, but this one I want to share with you. I wrestle daily with my call as a pastor- what that means, how I live that out, where that call comes from. So this collage represents how I feel called as a pastor right now. I won’t explain it- where’s the fun in that? I invite you to discover the abundant life that’s flowing through my creative prayer life today! And may you discover your own call to serve God in the world right where you are, and may you be surprised by the abundant life within.

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How much is enough?

I am grateful for this azalea, brought to adorn our meeting space.

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I used to live in a place full of azaleas and dogwoods and daffodils, just to name a few of my favorites. But now I live in a place full of rocks and I sometimes find it hard to see God’s creative hand at work.

I have a deep appreciation for the intricacies of the desert. I recognize that it’s a delicate ecosystem and has value in and of itself. But when I’m looking for signs of God’s abundance, I don’t immediately think of heading out my back door.

But why not? There are three towering blue spruce there, spreading out their branches over the stones and the weeds. There is a tiny creek that runs through my neighborhood, meandering toward town. And in the spring (late May,) surprising little flowers spring up in the forest, bursting out of the rocky ground.

When I compare these to the lush landscape of my homeland in South Carolina, they seems small and insignificant, as far as signs of life go. But why the comparison? Abundance is a matter of perspective. Abundance can’t really be quantified. Abundance is finding life and naming it “enough.”

I’m grateful to be back on the East coast where the bulbs are peeking out all across the landscape. But I also claim that abundance can be found even in the dusty ground of Arizona. That is good news, not just for the earth, but for my life.

Blessings on your desert days, and may you find abundance that is enough.

Abundant life in the process

I am blessed to be spending the week with fellow seekers on the contemplative path. We are immersed in silence and awareness of the presence of the holy all day long. Even at mealtimes when we’re laughing at someone’s joke or telling workplace horror stories, still the presence is there, in our consciousness, a part of who we are.

And so when the Spirit moves in a special way, I feel doubly blessed, as I did tonight. My small group was led in contemplative prayer by one of our members who is trained in the Soul Collage method. (Google it. Now.) We selected images and created a collage that was a lens to see ourselves in a new way. The journaling questions led us deeper into the collage, looking for connections and new insights about qualities that are emerging and aspects we’ve not noticed.

I’m not very artsy-craftsy and would never have chosen this method for myself. But the invitation to explore myself in a new way enabled me to trust that my own abilities would not have the last word. And the Spirit faithfully showed up and got to work, leading me to images that spoke to me of the wave of grace and discovery that I am on. In this is abundant life: that even after many years of living, there is always more to discover about ourselves and the way God is working in our lives.

I give thanks for Janet who brought us Soul Collage. And I give thanks for the abundant life that is carrying me into a new tomorrow.

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Abundance on planes, trains, and automobiles

Traveling as an introvert who seeks new experiences is a challenge. On the one hand, I am overwhelmed by the sensory input of the experience: new surroundings to observe, a cacophony of sounds to sort through, strange scents wafting from fellow passengers, and a general unfamiliarity to process. On the other, I am drawn to people and their stories: I see a mother and her son and I want to find out what grade he’s in, I observe an older man dragging a very worn and overstuffed briefcase and I want to ask about his long career, I sit down next to a young woman studying a script and I want to know everything about her upcoming production. What’s a curious introvert to do?

At the end of the day, my heart is full. I helped a family of 5 navigate security. I put headphones in to block out the loud talker across the aisle. I was mesmerized by the lights of the city reflecting off the water as we landed. I shared a pleasant conversation with a young man with sparkling brown eyes who checked me in to the hotel.

I didn’t accomplish much in a day. I simply got myself from one place to another. But in the traveling, I participated in the abundant common life we share. There are those who dread airplanes and the waiting and the inconveniences. But in the uncertainties, I discover connection and energy and life, abundant life. There are people in the world living fascinating lives, and we all converge in surprising ways among the maze of terminals and shuttles. It’s our openness to one another, our interest in what we share, and our welcoming of differences that makes us truly human. I become more of me when you share more of you. And that is abundant living.

living abundantly, making a difference

Saturdays are pajama days at my house. We love staying at home and doing nothing because all the rest of the days of the week, we’re running from one event to another. But once every couple of months, we have to get up early on a Saturday so I can attend a board meeting for Master Chorale of Flagstaff. It’s kind of a pain, because I don’t have time to make pancakes like I usually do, and I have to actually put on regular clothes and makeup and leave the comfort and safety of my home. So I’m a little grumpy about the meeting when I get there. And today was no exception.

I started out with a bit of a bad attitude. But then we started talking about things I actually care about, like the logistics for our upcoming Broadway Bingo concert and plans for our first chamber choir concert in April. And I began to wake up and contribute to the conversation. When it came time for my report as chair of the Fundraising Committee, I shared the work our team is doing with enthusiasm. I was proud to describe the different ways people are coming together to plan a cabaret night this summer – the first and biggest event of its kind for Master Chorale.

 

By the end of my report, I was positively glowing inside. And that’s when I felt it: abundant life is making a difference in the world. I was energized because I was using my gifts (coordinating, organizing, encouraging) to help an organization I care about (my community chorus.) Jesus calls us to do more than just earn a paycheck. Jesus calls us to share our gifts with the world, and that’s where the abundance kicks in. 

Where are you using your gifts? Is there a non-profit that needs your talents? This Lent, if you’re looking for abundant life, you’ll find it in the place where your gifts meet the world’s needs. Blessings on your journey!

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abundant life means taking risks

I’m not a cook. Food is fuel to me, not something to be fussed about. I make simple meals – grilled chicken with steamed veggies, for example – and I’m satisfied. I’ve discovered that I enjoy hosting parties, but since I’m not a cook, I usually serve appetizers and call it good. So on Ash Wednesday, when I realized that there was no one scheduled to make dinner for Messy Church on Thursday, I panicked. We were expecting 15 or so people, and they would be expecting food. What in the world was I going to do?

I didn’t have time to make a million phone calls to recruit help with dinner. I thought about just picking up pizza on the way, but we’ve been trying to offer healthy choices for our families and kids at Messy Church. I realized that I was going to have to make the meal. I was going to have to cook.

For most other people in the world, this would not have been a big deal. But for me, it was a nightmare. I anxiously perused my cookbooks (people give them to me, not knowing that they’ll never get used.) I obsessed about how many choices I would need to offer. Even after I settled on 2 types of chili (the simplest recipes I could find,) I stressed about what would happen if people didn’t like them. Then, since I’ve never made a meal for more than 4 people, I got anxious about how to serve such a large quantity of food. I had a crock pot, but it was the small version. And how was I going to keep a second pot of chili hot, driving all the way across town? Finally I took my crazy self to Target and impulsively bought a new, portable crock pot guaranteed to serve 9 people. Perfect.

Throughout the afternoon I doubted myself, alternately panicking and cursing myself for not going the pizza route. I made a mess of my kitchen, screamed at my dog who was underfoot, and just barely escaped injury from the oven (corn muffins at the last minute.) We arrived at Messy Church, crock pots in hand, and dinner was served. I said a heartfelt prayer to God that the dinner wouldn’t suck (language cleaned up for the kiddos) and then held my breath as people went through the line.

You know how the story ends. Dinner was fine. Both chilis were well received. No one got sick. No one went hungry. 

But it was so hard to see that from the front end. I was trying something new. I was doing something that I wasn’t already good at. I had no idea how it would turn out. And it made me feel out of control.

But then, I realized, that’s what abundant life is all about. It’s about leaving the safety of the guaranteed outcome, and embracing new life, new possibilities, new hope. 

Blessings on your risk-taking. If anyone wants some chili, I’ve got leftovers!

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