Prayers for Nepal

The next prompt from Writing in the Margins:

Isaiah 38:10, prayed by Mesu Andrews, is a deep lament for the one who prays for healing.  Use your margins to pray for your healing, others who are battling disease, and to pray for caregivers, doctors, nurse, and therapists.

I have so many thoughts running through my brain as I reflect on this passage:

My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Nepal in the midst of the devastating earthquake.  The country already seems burdened by poverty.  I think of lives cut short and those left behind, especially the children.  My prayers are with them.

My thoughts and prayers are with the friends and family of those who lost their lives in the related avalanche on Everest, living a dream or supporting another’s dream to reach the highest place on earth.

My thoughts are with the friends and family of a local landscaper who died of cancer at 31.  His funeral is today.  He leaves behind two children that were not his own, but they saw him as a father.  I feel for these kids grieving a loss that’s hard to name.

My thoughts are also with those who have been grievously injured while serving in the military.  I was at the finish line of the Wounded Warrior ride from Gettysburg to Washington yesterday.  Many rode special bikes so they could pedal with their arms.  Seeing these men and women is a reminder of how quickly life can change, but their determined spirits are testament to the parts of ourselves that are unchangeable regardless of circumstance.

My thoughts are with those like Mesu Andrews that inspired this prompt:  who bravely face long-term chronic illness.  I pray that they will have the strength, the courage, and the wisdom to continue caring for themselves and thank God for the unstoppable ways they continue to care and do for others.

My prayers are with those who are recovering from any type of life-threatening illness or situation.  I pray that they will be blessed to live life fully and to appreciate little special moments all the more.

I pray for everyone including myself, not to take life or health for granted.

I pray for rescue workers, doctors, nurses, therapists, and caregivers at the forefront of meeting desperate needs.  I thank God for their service and ask God’s blessing on their work.

Random thoughts:

Growing up, my family often went to the Rocky Mountain National Park on vacations, and I went to summer camp at Cheley Colorado Camps.  A former camper showed us a slideshow of his own Everest expedition in the early 1990s, and I remember thinking “That is something I never want to do!” after he showed us a slide of a frozen, dead human body still lying on the ice and then told us that the corpse served as a grim reminder of the dangers they faced.  That summer a small group of Sherpas from Nepal showed up at our summer camp.  I still remember just feeling in total awe of these men.  I would huff and puff up the hiking trails and whine for water breaks, but they walked easily with a bounce in their step and plenty of energy to spare.  After a day of hiking to the top of a mountain with campers, they returned to camp and built dry stack walls as if they were kids playing with blocks.  I’ve never again seen men with such strong and abundant energy.  I feel blessed to have been in their presence; they definitely left a lasting impression!  From the slideshow of the Everest trip, I also remember seeing pictures of prayer flags hung before the expedition.  Every time wind blows the flags, more prayers are offered, a beautiful way to pray without ceasing.  So I’ve added some prayer flags to my Bible margins.  They won’t blow in the wind, but when I see them I’ll remember to pray again for all of the above, especially the country of Nepal.

029

The more I think about these memories, the more improbable it seems that I ever hiked with a Sherpa or was in the same room with a mountaineer that climbed Mount Everest.  I wish my grown-up self could go back in time and tell my teenage self to pay better attention!!!  I Googled “Cheley Colorado Camps” and “Everest” and found the name of a Cheley alum that climbed Mount Everest in 1990:  Glenn Porzak.  That must be the man I remember giving a slideshow presentation after all these years.

God’s Breath

The next prompt from Writing in the Margins:

Turn to 2 Timothy 3:12-17.  What does Timothy affirm engagement with scripture will accomplish?  Write down three elements necessary for creative reading of a holy text?

Toward the first question…

According to the passage, engaging scripture can….

  • Lead you to wisdom;
  • Prepare you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus;
  • Train you in righteousness;
  • Offer teaching, reproof, and correction;
  • Equip you for every good work;
  • Make you whole and complete;
  • Fill you with the breath of God, which is life.

Towards the second question…

Three elements necessary for creative reading of a holy text:

  1.  Time to read, absorb, and reflect upon the Scripture.
  2. A personal response from the reader to God (artwork, a journal entry, music)
  3. A personal response from God to the reader (allowing Scripture help shape and create the reader!)

A few random thoughts about this passage:

I just finished reading a really fascinating book about acupuncture (of all things) called The Spark in the Machine by Dr. Daniel Keown.  Truthfully, before reading the book I had very little interest in acupuncture, but I was curious about yin, yang, and chi, and the thought popped in my head that it might help to read about acupuncture if I want to understand these concepts in a practical way.  I was very surprised that I could not put the book down.  The author does an amazing job capturing the wonder of embryonic development as he relates acupuncture points to organization centers in embryonic development and acupuncture channels to the fasciae planes.  Wow!  Anyway, he describes “chi” in a very simple and pragmatic way.  Chi as “intelligent metabolism” or the way our bodies use air and food to give us energy for everything from embryonic development to daily activities to healing. As I prepared a list of what Scripture can accomplish, it made me think of the book I just read and also a banner painted at the martial arts school where my son studies:  “More chi.  Train harder.”  As God’s breath, Scripture helps us to live with much greater intelligence about the things that matter most in life.  It gives us wisdom and helps us see the error of our ways so that we can direct our energy in ways that bear fruit.  It trains and equips us for every good work.  Scripture makes us whole and complete.  And it guides us on the path to eternal life.

I really like the way my Bible translates this passage:  “All Scripture is breathed out by God.”  Genesis teaches that it is God’s breath that brought Adam to life and Adam’s sin that resulted in death.  I’ve never thought of this before, but to say that Scripture is God’s breath is to give scripture the power to bring us fully to life and restore us to God; to make us “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”

I feel blessed to have been acquainted with scripture from childhood and feel extremely grateful for the ways that working my way through Writing in the Margins has deepened my relationship with the Word.  I found myself humming the hymn “Breath on Me, Breath of God”, and the first verse found itself onto the margins of my Bible…

007

Spring Renewal!

Love this!  Lisa Nichols Hickman shares the following from the Presbyterian Directory for Worship (reading this makes me happy to be Presbyterian and also feels like an affirmation my humble efforts here!):

One may mediate upon the Word by:

  • committing passages of Scripture to memory,
  • recalling and reflecting upon the revelation of God;
  • analyzing and comparing biblical themes, images, and forms,
  • finding touch points and exploring relationships between Scripture and life;
  • entering imaginatively into the world and events portrayed in the Bible to participate in what God does and promises there;
  • wrestling with the challenges and demands of the offering one’s self afresh for life in response to God.

It is often helpful to keep a record of one’s insights and personal responses to reading, studying, and meditating upon the Word, or to share them with others.

With these suggestions for meditating on the Word in mind, I have a new verse I would like to commit to memory.  The same reader who led me to reflect on Isaiah 55 also suggested reading Romans 12:2.  I love how these two passages read like a question and a response.   As I reflected on Isaiah 55, I found myself wondering if there were any way to make our thoughts and ways more like God’s.  As I read Romans 12:2, I heard a response to my pondering:  What’s needed is a complete renewal of our minds!  I can’t think of a better way to renew our minds then to spend time in God’s Holy Word!

013

Reflections on Isaiah 55

With the Wesleyan Quadrangle (scripture, tradition, reason, and experience) in my mind I turned my attention to Isaiah 55.

My first impression just reading through Scripture:

This beautiful passage stirs my heart.  I love the broad invitation at the beginning of the chapter.  The Old Testament doesn’t mention money nearly as often as the New, so I found myself a little curious about the phrase “And he who has no money, come buy and eat.”  I love the suggestion that the things that satisfy our deepest longings can’t be bought with money.  Food for our soul comes to us when we draw close to God and listen.  God then draws the listener in with a reminder of the covenant he made with Abraham and his steadfast, sure love for David.  God shares his plan that Israel’s restoration will have a broad impact on a nation not yet known.

After grabbing reader’s attention, Isaiah call us to repentance:

Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.  For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.

Since the words “My thoughts are higher” come shortly after the call to repentance, my thinking is that they may refer to the way in which God forgives.

Then comes my favorite part of the passage where we learn that God sent the Word to us, just as he sends water to the earth, to accomplish God’s purpose, to help us sprout and in turn nourish others.  When God’s purpose is accomplished, there is joy and peace.  All creation celebrates.  God’s name is known.

Tradition:

This is a marvelous passage to illustrate how tradition shapes what we read.  When I do my best to put myself in the place of an Israelite being held in captivity in Babylon, I read it quite differently.  I hear the prophet reminding me not to get too comfortable in Babylon and with their mercantile ways, to remember that God has something better in store for me when Israel is restored.  I feel reminded that I still need to turn to God while I can, which means while I am alive.  I may not have my homeland, but I have the Word of God, and I know it will accomplish its purpose, if not in my lifetime, then in the lifetime of my descendants.  And I have the promise that Israel will be restored and glorified.

Reading this passage within my own tradition, as a Christian, I am awed by the broad and open invitation.  I hear the Words spoken to the whole world and also to me.  The phrase “everyone who thirsts” immediately brings to mind the words of Jesus to the Samaritan lady he meets at a well:  “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.  The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14).  The phrase:  “Seek the Lord while he may be found.” provokes a sensation of urgency to spread the Gospel message.  As I read about God sending the Word to earth like rain, I think of how the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  It reminds me how God stops at nothing to draw close to us.  And the passage about mountains singing and trees clapping brings to my mind the triumphant and peaceful entry of Jesus, riding on a donkey, into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.  For me, it also recalls memories of Palm Sunday at church with children running down the aisle of the sanctuary wildly waving Palms and the glorious sound of the pipe organ.  (Is that strange?)  The whole passage evokes this longing for a time of restoration when everything is set right and God’s name will be known and loved by all.  (This reading of the text can only be explained by knowing something about my own faith tradition.  Tradition absolutely shapes how we read text!)

Reason:

As a Presbyterian, perhaps, these are odd questions (I should probably redirect my thoughts to the five points of Calvinism starting with total depravity!), but…

I know and believe that each one of us is created in the image of God.  When I think of the distance of the furthest heavens back to earth, that seems like an insurmountable distance.  So I find myself wondering:  Why are our thoughts so far from God’s?  Why are our ways so different?  Every day I pray “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  How would the earth be different if this finally comes to be?  How can more of heaven be brought to earth?

As I reflected on these questions, I thought of the image from the Sistine chapel.  How God reaches out to Adam with great confidence, but Adam’s hand seems totally limp.  And my mind starts wondering again:  What if we are closer to God than we know?  What if really and truly we just need to put a bit more effort into reaching out to God?  What if what holds so many back from the experience of God’s goodness isn’t sin, but just laziness?  But, of course, as I think of people who don’t seem to have time for God, they are hardworking and busy, so lazy doesn’t seem like the right word.  Maybe spiritually lazy?  But that’s “sloth” (and one of the seven deadly sins according to the Catholic tradition), so I’ve worked myself right back into my Calvinist conviction:  mankind is totally unable to do anything for ourselves to free us from the stranglehold of sin.  Mmm…

What’s the answer?  What is it that could turn hearts and cause humans to thirst just a little for the divine?  I will take comfort in knowing:  while humans may be stubborn, heaven bends freely to earth, picking us up when necessary like a mother cat carries her kittens.

Experience:

My experience tells me that often when something is offered freely, it’s not valued.  How many times have I been offered a free class via e-mail and not followed through, but the few times I’ve paid for an online class, I’ve done my best to get the most out of it.  In Christianity, salvation is free and easy:  acknowledge your sins and accept Jesus.  There’s no requirement to spend years in training, hours in meditation, endure any kind of physical challenge, fast or make changes to your diet, or pay a great sum of money.  It’s enough to say:  “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

As I read the beginning of Isaiah 55, most of me rejoices in the free promise of God’s mercy, but another voice somewhere in the back of my brain pops up wondering:  Maybe the reason people ignore God’s generous offer is that God made salvation almost too free and easy?  It’s then I am reminded of the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: ‘Ye were bought at a price’, and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.

― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

It’s hard to write anything after Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s powerful reminder.

It’s been a good experience for me to consider Scripture as John Wesley taught:  To pay attention to first impressions of the text and also how tradition shapes how we read; to address and reason through any questions and also to consider any observations from life experience.  I’ll do my best to continue to be aware of these various threads running through my brain as I read!  Below is what found its way into my margins….

012

The Wesleyan Quadrilateral

Lisa Nichols Hickman shares another way to interact with text, the Wesleyan Quadrilateral.  The approach to reading the Bible is rooted in the teaching of John Wesley, leader of the Methodist movement in the 18th century.  I picture his understanding of scripture like a three-legged stool, where Scripture is the seat and is primary.  Scripture is supported by three legs:  tradition, reason, and experience.

On tradition:  Like Wesley, I believe that tradition should be rooted in and subject to the Bible, but at the same time, I see a certain inevitability of tradition shaping how we read and understand the Bible.  We all learn from those who have gone before us and it is wondrous to reflect on the unbroken chain that somehow connects us as Christians to Jesus and the Apostles across 2000 years of human history.  The church is blessed with beautiful creeds that were hammered out through long discussions among believers, and with countless inspired sermons, books and hymns that witness to the living presence of God’s love in our lives.  The church’s holidays and rituals keep the stories of the Bible alive in meaningful ways in our busy lives.

On reason:   Now this leg is a little more curious to me.  Personally, I’ve never viewed the Bible as a book to be attacked with critical thinking and reason.  It’s a book that I have always read lovingly and contemplatively as if it’s God story.  I do my best to simply write the words in my heart and listen to what they have to say to me.  I decided I needed a better understanding of what John Wesley meant by reason.  Google lead me to the most beautiful sermon on the subject:   “The Case Of Reason Impartially Considered”.  Upon beginning reading, I laughed thinking I must be among the following:

Even then there were not wanting well-meaning men who, not having much reason themselves, imagined that reason was of no use in religion; yea, rather, that it was a hinderance to it.

But as I read on, I realized I am very much in sympathy with what John Wesley has to say about reason.  I think at first I resisted the word “reason” because I was taking the word “reason” to mean “able to hold up in a good argument.”  John Wesley acknowledges this meaning, but points to another:  “Understanding.”  He shares that reason is the process by which we first grasp something with simple apprehension then filter this through our judgment which helps us know whether or not this new understanding is in agreement with what we already know, and finally, allows us to enter into discourse with others.  In his sermon he shares the many ways that reason helps us in practical matters of life and encourages us to apply the same way of thinking to our Bible study:

The foundation of true religion, stands upon the oracles of God.  It is built upon the Prophets and Apostles.  Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone.  Now, of what excellent use is reason, if we would either understand ourselves, or explain to others, those living oracles.

In the same sermon, John Wesley goes onto say what reason cannot do:  Reason cannot produce faith, for faith is the conviction of things not seen.  Reason cannot produce hope, which springs from Christian faith.  Reason cannot produce the love of God, which flows from faith and hope.  It can’t produce the love of our neighbor, “calm, generous, disinterested benevolence to every child of man,”  which springs forth from the gratitude we have for our creator.  He goes onto say that since reason cannot produce this kind of love, it cannot produce virtue.  And finally, “And as it cannot give faith, hope, love, or virtue, so it cannot give happiness; since, separate from these, there can be no happiness for any intelligent creature.”  John Wesley must have had an appreciation for Socrates (this last assertion takes me back to my Intro to Philosophy course at Swarthmore.)

I’m on board with reason now, let me turn to experience.  Presbyterian ministers tend to be really good about taking scripture and making it relatable through anecdotes and personal stories, so this is probably for me the most natural way to approach scripture.  I’ve listened to a lot of sermons through the years!  As Lisa Nichols Hickman describes, this is common sense Christianity or what your grandmother or the person sitting next to you at church might take from the text.

Before this post ends, I just have to share:  At the moment, I am feeling in love with this statement about Christian experience that I discovered while trying to understand John Wesley’s views on reason:

What scriptures promise, I enjoy. –John Wesley

This is such a beautiful statement and at the core of what it means to be Christian.  I’ve always felt that the Christian faith is best understood through experience.  Christianity is not, as many mistakenly think, about believing the right things.  Christianity is the grace to live in the fullness of knowing God’s love.

Wow!  This was a lot to take in and I haven’t even opened the Bible yet.  As soon as possible, I plan to apply this approach to scripture to looking at a passage that one of my readers suggested to me:  Isaiah Chapter 55.

To Save, not Condemn

In the eighth chapter of Writing in the Margins, Lisa Nichol Hickman’s shares how her friend Betsy Boyd uses the margins of her Bible to help her write the Word of God onto her heart:

She squiggles wavy lines across the bottom margin of the page.  She picks up her pen.  She writes the words of the text…in between the squiggly lines so there is a particular cadence to the enlarging and shrinking the words of the text.  She grabs a few markers or colored pencils and colors in the shapes that emerge.  Once the margin is complete the scripture text has been etched into here heart and mind for the day just as it reverberates on the edge of the page.

I decided to give this method a try.  There’s a verse that has been very much on my mind this week (especially today as we remember Good Friday).

007