Notes from Life's Journey

March 5, 2013

Reflections on the Inner Person versus the Outer Person

Filed under: Walking — dmbr622 @ 10:25 pm

I was watching an Internet broadcast of a college class on the impact of the Renaissance of American life and politics – the eighth class out of a ten class series. I was finding this class more personally enlightening than the previous seven classes when the instructor said something about the teachings of Martin Luther being aimed at bringing the outer man into conformity with the inner man. My initial thought was, ‘Yes!’ But that agreement didn’t last long.

I began to think about all the multiplicity of motives and thoughts that are within the inward person of most, if not all, of us. Although it is true that if the outer person more consistently resembled the highest ideal or standard to which most of us give assent, our world would probably be a better place. The problem is, we’re not always in agreement with what is the highest ideal or standard – even within one inner person, let alone between inner persons.

Sometimes the alternative might work better – having our inner person be fully in agreement with our outer person. The reason for that is that most often we try to put our best face forward – in other words, we tend to limit the visibility to outsiders of our temper tantrums, selfishness, greed, etc. It should be a good thing if there were some kind of checks and balances between our inner and outer person so that, over time, the negatives [by some ideal standard] are replaced by more positive aspects [also measured by some ideal standard].

I suspect that, for most of us, this will be a lifelong process and one with difficulty in balancing the difference between what I think I want or need, what is for my ultimate good, what is in the best interest of those I come in contact with including their perceived wants and needs and ultimate good, and the impact on the world around me. To add to the complexity, there may be a different ideal standard depending on which facet of those I focus on.

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September 18, 2011

The Power of Words

Filed under: personal growth,Walking — dmbr622 @ 8:44 am

I’ve loved words for as long as I can remember – I read them, sing them, write them, type them, transcribe them, study them, evaluate them, rearrange them, and change my life by understanding them.  I believe we are, in fact, molded by the words we choose.

Many years ago I read a book entitled “Wishcraft” by Barbara Sher in which she said something that resonated deeply in me; it was about a language/cultural shift in which people now attempt to justify what they want by the language of need.  Have you been in a store, like Penny’s perhaps, and listened to a teenager with a parent shopping for clothing?  The parent says, “Look at the price difference here – Wranglers are on sale for $22.95 and these designer jeans are $129.95.  Can’t you be reasonable for a change?”  “Mom, I CAN’T wear those awful things –NOBODY wears those.  I NEED designer jeans!”  Or have you listened in on your own self-talk over a purchase? – “My pickup is approaching 80,000 miles and soon it’s going to cost more just to keep it running.  I really NEED a new pickup,” or after an invitation to a new social event and running through the 69 outfits in your closet, you say, “I NEED a new outfit to wear to the party – I don’t have a single thing to wear?”  The real truth is not that we NEED these things, but that we WANT them.  But wanting things like that seems a little self-centered and certainly we would prefer not to be known as self-centered, so we try to rationalize that we NEED them.

When I started thinking about those words – WISH, NEED, and WANT – and the differences in internalized meaning, I began to understand the power of words to stop me, or keep me where I’ve always been, or to propel me forward.

I told you I sing words and the song, When you Wish Upon a Star, from the movie, Pinocchio as sung by Jiminy Cricket, was a part of my childhood belief system:

When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you.

A part of what Barbara Sher meant to get across in her book is that a dream or wish CAN spur us on to achievement, but more often than not, wishes are merely passive – like wishcraft – causing us to hope beyond hope that something magical will happen and our dreams will materialize – without effort or cost or time.  For example, several times a year I say, “I wish I would win the Publisher’s Clearing House prize.”  You’ve probably said the same thing or updated to the now legal Oklahoma lottery, but none of us goes to a builder to order our dream house based on Publisher’s Clearinghouse or the lottery, because we know wishes don’t make it so.

The next word in our trio of words is NEED.  We’ve probably all heard the phrase, “Necessity (or need) is the mother of invention.”  So, once again, although a need CAN be the force to propel us forward, in our culture it is more likely to be a rationalization for something we DON’T need.  In addition, in our culture, if I have a NEED, it is probably because SOMEONE didn’t meet my needs.  In that scenario, NEED becomes a word of blame and expectation.  It is a word of infidelity and divorce – he or she didn’t meet my needs.  It is a word of liberal politics – if there is a need, we’d better get funding to meet it because this is the land of opportunity and equality.  So need has become a word of an outstretched palm waiting for somebody to put something in it.

The third word – WANT – is a word based on speaking the truth to yourself. To say “I want it” is to acknowledge ownership of your desire.  When you can look at that pickup or the new outfit or the attainment of a new skill, such as speaking in front a group, and say to yourself, “I WANT that,” the door is opened to evaluate how much you want it, setting goals to get it and moving step-by-step toward it; and THAT is the key to achieving YOUR desires.  When you want it enough, you’ll make a plan of action to achieve it.  When you want it enough, you’ll be willing to count the cost and invest whatever it takes in time, energy, money, a support system and commitment.

We’re all here tonight in a Toastmasters meeting because we WANT something  – more ease in speaking in front of groups; to prepare for a new phase in a career or as a professional speaker, motivator, or comedian; to practice leadership skills; or even to have contact with people who care enough to try to better themselves.  So, the question tonight for each of us is, “Why am I here and what do I want?”  Am I merely wishing for change and growth to magically occur?  Because I have a NEED to achieve, am I waiting for someone else to provide the opportunity, the motivation, or the skills?  Or am I willing to step out on a limb and say, “I WANT this enough to set goals, and make a plan of action and continue working at it until I attain it?”

When we can speak the latter with conviction, we have taken the first step toward harnessing the power of words to change our lives – to open the door to our realized future.

[from a talk given in 2009]

March 8, 2010

message from Marty

Filed under: Walking — dmbr622 @ 2:31 pm

Today I’m doing something I’ve never done before; I’m copying an article that is from the current issue of the monthly newsletter from Crossings Community Church in Oklahoma City; it was written by the senior pastor , Marty Grubbs, as a part of his regular monthly column entitled ‘message from Marty.’  I decided to post it in this way because his words resonated in me, and as I read them I believed they would resonate with some members of my family as well as friends who are struggling through difficult days. I hope you find his words comforting and meaningful:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11: 28-30.

Lately, there have been so many people special to me who have gone on to heaven, or who are walking through a dark valley at the moment. As most of you know, my own father-in-law is in a valiant battle with cancer. These are times when I have to reflect on what I really believe. Do I believe what the Bible says about going through difficult times? It’s one thing to preach it; it is often another to have to practice it. Let me assure you, my faith is not wavering. But finding the reality of God’s promise in the middle of the storm is often not very easy.

The Bible promises that we can “give all our worries and cares to God, for He cares about what happens to us” (I Peter 5:7 NLT). How do I know when I have given Him all of my worries? And if I have given all my worries to Him, is it ok to still be worried? When is it just deep concern?

Jesus has promised that He will give us His peace. He promises that His peace is very different than what is offered by the world. He even goes as far as telling us to “not let our hearts be troubled and not to be afraid” (John 14:27). I believe this with all my heart, but my heart is still heavy with concern for those I love. My mind is filled with thoughts of what I can do, what I should say, how I should act in these storm-filled moments.

Jesus was out on the water with the disciples one day when a fierce storm came along. The disciples were terrified. Jesus was asleep. The disciples woke Him up saying, “Master, we are going to drown!” Jesus calmed the storm, and questioned them about their faith. I don’t get the sense that Jesus was angry with them, but I do believe He knew this was a moment for them to decide if they really believed He had the power to not only calm the stormy waters, but the storms of life as well. And I believe He fully understood their fear.

I’d like to believe that if I had been in that boat, I would have been perfectly fine knowing Jesus was on the boat, even if asleep. But I predict I would have been the first one trying to wake Him up and get something done.

In this time of stormy days, I am remembering that Jesus is with us in the storm. I prefer smooth sailing. Don’t we all? Given a choice of lakes, I’d choose one that offered smooth sailing. I would do everything I could to avoid the storms. Unfortunately, life does not offer that option. And Jesus was so clear about these times. He reminds us in John 16:33 “I have told you all of this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” In other words, there will be stormy times, but He has it covered. There will be painful moments. He has it covered.

“Peace doesn’t come from finding a lake with no storms. It comes from having Jesus in the boat.”  ~ John Ortberg, The Me I Want to Be

January 31, 2010

Upon Reaching Your Majority

Filed under: personal growth,Walking — dmbr622 @ 11:39 am

[Written to and for my grandchildren on their 18th birthday]

You could hardly wait; it seemed so important to be legal – an adult – old enough … Until January 31, 2010 you were minors (at least in Oklahoma) but today, you’ve reached your majority. Uh … what on earth does that mean?

It means that before today, the legal system assumed you didn’t have all the resources (financial, educational, maturational, etc.) to take responsibility for everything that happens in your life – well, of course, none of us has total control over everything in our life. There will always be things such as disease or earthquakes, and even the actions of other people. That’s why the legal system says you’ve reached your ‘majority’ – they believe you can be responsible for the majority of what comes your way – as I said, at least in Oklahoma. Before that, you were only able to be responsible for a minority (you were minors) of your actions or choices.

Your mom and I have been studying our heritage; just think – if some of our ancestors had remained in Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia or Wisconsin you’d have to wait until you graduated from high school, in Alabama you’d still have another year, or in Mississippi until you were 21 (to name a few of the places where we might be if our families hadn’t moved around).

Since we ended up in Oklahoma, the question for a day like today thus becomes, “How do I live so as to maximize the results of such responsibility?”

I have based my whole life on the premise that God is … I read a book (many times) by Leslie Weatherhead called The Christian Agnostic. He said some things that were helpful to me in developing my Christian philosophy: “When I read something in the Bible I don’t understand, I put it in a mental box marked ‘awaiting further light’” and “Don’t judge God by what you read in the Bible; rather judge the Bible by what you know about God.” Although I believe God has absolute standards, the thing I hold to be the truest and overriding concept about Him is the scripture that says, “God is love.”

As one who loves words, I’ve also discovered some people who put thoughts into words in memorable ways. Here are a few that can aid you in taking responsibility for your majority:

  • Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it. – Lou Holtz
  • One that would have the fruit must climb the tree. – Thomas Fuller
  • Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do. –Johann von Goethe
  • We should not let our fears hold us back from pursuing our hopes. – John Fitzgerald Kennedy
  • It’s always too early to quit. – Norman Vincent Peale
  • Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. – Theodore Roosevelt
  • I am a big believer in the ‘mirror test’. All that matters is if you can look in the mirror and honestly tell the person you see there, that you’ve done your best. – John McKay
  • Guard your integrity as a sacred thing; nothing is as important as the integrity of your own mind. – Brian Tracy
  • Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least. – Joann Wolfgang von Goethe
  • Work like you don’t need the money. Love like you’ve never been hurt. Dance like nobody is watching. – Mark Twain
  • If taking vitamins doesn’t keep you healthy enough, try more laughter: The most wasted of all days is that on which one has not laughed. – Nicolas-Sebastien Chamfort
  • Good enough seldom is. Set excellence as your standard and refuse to compromise. – Brian Tracy
  • Light tomorrow with today! – Elizabeth Barrett Browning
  • The mass of men [and women] lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them. – Henry David Thoreau

Remember back when you came to hear me speak in the serious speech competition? A large part of that speech had to do with Thoreau’s concept of each person’s song as well as the Grady Nutt book, Being Me, that talks about being fully yourself – who you were created to be. Here’s the ending of my speech and my encouragement to you to be everything you were created to be:

The concept of the River of Life is “the truth of life as a melody and not just any melody – your melody.  Every one of us, at one time or another, like the river, has allowed activities or people around us to drown out our song – so much so that at times we may not even remember our own melody.  In forgetting our melody, we may hear someone else’s song and think, ‘that’s a pretty song.’  For example, I watched David, a 17-year baritone, practicing a solo – the last note was just too low for him.  He tried and tried and it just wasn’t there.  Finally, he decided to have the choir director, a bass, sit on the front pew with a microphone and when David got to the very last note, George picked up the microphone and sang the low note.  Ah, but that just won’t do – it has to be our song.  I have my melody and you have yours.  Make your own kind of music.  As Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil said, ‘Even if nobody else sings along.’

“In this river of life, your mission is to uncover your song (not discover it, because it’s been there all along) and once you uncover it, sing it for all you’re worth.  When the river of life joins with the sea of eternity – the sea will not be complete without my melody or without yours.”

I love you – and Happy Majority!

January 16, 2010

Immanuel – God With Us

Filed under: personal growth,Walking — dmbr622 @ 11:55 am

As I read a brief study this morning of Psalm 125 out of Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, I remembered sitting in a hotel in Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada in May 2008 reading that psalm while looking out at the Rocky Mountains that surrounded me. In that psalm, the psalmist noted the mountains surrounding Jerusalem and compared the protection afforded by them as being like the security offered God’s people by His presence that surrounds them for “now and forevermore.”  Today as I remember that psalm and reflect on God’s care, world news is of the devastating earthquake in Haiti where estimates of the dead are in excess of 140,000 people. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to feel God’s protection in the aftermath of such devastation.

In October (2009) my associate pastor, in welcoming everyone to the 8:00 a.m. service, said (tongue-in-cheek), “I’m glad you’re here and just want you to know God shows up for the 8:00 service too.” Everyone laughed — everyone but me, not because I don’t have a sense of humor or didn’t know that was his intent, but because I think we all need to be aware of the possible impact of the little ways in which our trust in God can be undermined. The truth is, I love language – I believe it has the ability to inspire us, motivate us, entertain us, amuse us, confuse us and that it can, subtly (when it takes up residence in our brain without clarification), lead us to flawed thinking.

The dilemma with the concept of God showing up doesn’t lie in the ‘when’ of His presence, but in the inferred ‘If’ of His presence. I believe the thought process that “God shows up” sets the stage for the thinking that God might not or did not ‘show up’ when tragedy occurs. Way too often, our response to trouble is to ask, “Where was God in this?” or “Why me; I tithe … attend … serve, etc,” and, unfortunately, there  always seem to be a few judgmental people who hurtfully announce that some tragedy was inflicted by God as punishment for whatever happens to be on their personal ‘top ten sin list.’

My concern is that thinking God ‘shows up’ may rob someone of the assurance of His presence and comfort when they need it the most. Our God is named Immanuel, God With Us. By the very nature of His character, he doesn’t ‘show up.’ He is omnipresent, meaning He is there all the time; and as God With Us, He is both already present and arrives in and around each of us as we show up where ever we are.

It is difficult in the face of overwhelming tragedy, such as what is happening in Haiti, to move beyond the questions of “Why?” and “Where was God …?” However, even though those are typically our first questions, I don’t believe they are useful questions – the world is and weather is – as M. Scott Peck said in the opening sentence in his book The Road Less Traveled: “Life is difficult.”  Jesus gave us a picture of reality when he said (Matthew 5:45 – NASB), “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

The better and more useful questions revolve around “What can I do in this situation to help?” Paul in 2nd Corinthians 1:4  (NLT) said, “He [God]comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” Right now most of us cannot go to Haiti, but we can give dollars to support the cost of rescue and eventual rebuilding; we can also allow our tears to flow as we weep with them over their suffering and pray that God will meet their needs as only He knows them. As I reflected on this I remembered a melody and lyrics:

O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast
And our eternal home. . .

Be thou our guide while life shall last,
And our eternal home.

The promise of scripture is not that by belonging to God we will be kept safe from the difficulties, tragedies and disasters of life, but that nothing can stop God’s ultimate plan and purpose. Paul in Romans 8:35-39 said, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:  ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

I think we all want to worship God in singing, dancing, rejoicing and praising him in celebration; it’s just that in this world, there are many times when loving and worshiping God means praying and weeping and either giving in response to the needs around us or receiving the comfort offered by those who pray and weep and give.

October 25, 2009

Journey into Usefulness

Filed under: personal growth,Walking — dmbr622 @ 4:06 pm
Tags: , ,

This morning I read an Erma Bombeck  quote: “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and I could say, ‘I used everything that you gave me.'”

Many years ago I read a book by James Mahoney called Journey Into Fullness. It was about living the Christian life in the fullness of the Holy Spirit. His book, and a good bit of the New Testament, teaches that living the Christian life isn’t about what we have talents and abilities to accomplish on our own, but is about allowing God through his Holy Spirit to guide and empower us on our walk with Him. I loved the book and was totally ready to open myself to the filling of God’s Spirit and thus to see miraculous and positive things happen for the Kingdom of God. The difficulty for me (and likely most of us) is that the concept of a journey into fullness can become an exercise in what I GET out of living a Spirit-filled life.

Mahoney wrote a follow-up book called Journey Into Usefulness. That one has been more difficult for me because usefulness isn’t about me at all, but usefulness is rather in the estimation of the recipient. Something is only useful when it benefits someone else and that is the concept I’ve struggled with ever since I read the book – back in the 1970’s.

Part of the reason this has been such a struggle for me is that God gifted me with an operatic soprano voice, which is no longer useful within the church. Choir directors ask sopranos to sing like little boys whose voices haven’t yet changed or matured (my voice was mature and operatic by the time I first heard it when I was thirteen), and the majority of church music is written to exploit the low vocal register; if the higher notes are utilized at all, they are most frequently approached after singing pages of low, loud and forced pitches, all of which are not conducive to the vocal health and longevity of a singer.

I also have a facility for language, whether written, spoken or taught. Unfortunately, I’ve always been a part of a conservative religious denomination that prefers to hear from men. So once again, my gifts from God aren’t useful in the world in which I live.

With the difficulty of living in a world that does not really want who I was created by God to be, how may I journey into usefulness? It’s interesting that one of the difficulties in many, if not most, marriages is that each partner knows what he or she would like to receive from the other in order to feel loved and, accordingly, the gesture or action they desire to receive is the gift they lovingly offer to their marriage partner. Unfortunately, it is probable that each is hoping to receive something different than what is being offered and therefore the gift of each misses the mark.

With the marriage analogy, it is clear each marriage partner needs to be asking, watching for signs and listening deeply to clues to what the other needs in order to feel loved, and once they have an idea to actually give what is desired. That won’t always be easy and may occasionally even be impossible, but to be useful, our gift  has to meet the needs of the recipient. Living usefully in the world will be the same as living in a marriage – ever looking for ways in which I can actually be useful – all the while being careful to not lose sight of myself and those qualities that make me be me. I read a book once with a great title, Do I Have to Give Up Me to be Loved by You? That’s the necessary balance – to remain yourself while finding ways to be useful in the world. 

A couple of months ago, I went to a Beth Moore simulcast where she quoted a scripture [Psalm 37:3]  that said, “Trust the Lord and do good.’ She clarified that by saying, “The scripture doesn’t say, ‘Trust the Lord and do right,’ but rather says, ‘Trust the Lord and do good.'” She continued by noting that most of us would much prefer to do right than to do good. There are rules and standards to rightness and once we have complied with what is right, we can feel justified in our behavior. But once again, like usefulness, good is based on achieving a beneficial result.

The call to usefulness and to do good is difficult. At some level, if that is my call and my goal, I become responsible for not only my actions, but for the outcome as well. It’s not enough to offer only what I want to give while disregarding the needs around me. It’s also true and difficult to realize that not all that is useful or beneficial will be pleasant for the recipient. Most of us long for the easy way out, someone to meet our needs or take responsibility for the consequences that result from our behavior. Doing the good thing or the useful thing may be doing the hard thing.

I expect to continue to struggle with this concept. I long to be useful as well as to honor the God who made me. How nice it would be if I could do both at once. Though I agree with Erma Bombeck and would love to slide into heaven completely used up and exhilarated by the journey, it may be that I have to stand before God at the end of my life and say, ‘I tried to use what you gave me but no one wanted it; however, since I loved You and I loved them, I found ways to use my mind and my senses to see, hear and feel the needs of others and then to meet them in whatever way was possible.’

I obviously still have a long way to go on this journey.

October 3, 2009

Without Knowing Where I’m Going

Plan Ahead

There are so many adages that tell us to plan ahead in life, such as this interchange from Alice in Wonderland: “One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. ‘Which road do I take?’ she asked. ‘Where do you want to go?’ was his response. ‘I don’t know,’ Alice answered. ‘Then,’ said the cat, ‘it doesn’t matter.'”

When I began this journey with the Genesis 17:1 verse that said, “Walk in my presence and become perfect,” the implication for me, and I would guess for most of us, is that everything in life is going to turn out great. Unfortunately, my practical experience with that is life frequently doesn’t feel like my feet are on solid ground.

I tend to sense more questions than I sense I’m living with all the answers; in fact, way too often I sense I have none of the answers. Worse, sometimes I feel like I’ve been given one of those Scantrons on which I’m supposed to color in my answers with a No. 2 pencil and, not only do I not know the answers, I don’t even know the questions.

I suppose that’s one of the reasons I enjoy the Bible so much – not because it has all the specific answers I think I need, but because of those random verses that make me realize that what feels so insecure is what the faith life is really like. For example, Exodus 13:17-18b [Jerusalem Bible] says, God did not let them take the road to the land of the Philistines, although that was the nearest way. God thought that the prospect of fighting would make the people lose heart and turn back to Egypt. Instead, God led the people by the roundabout way of the wilderness …

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been traveling that ’roundabout way’ rather than the superhighway I’d much prefer. Again, remember how childlike I can be as I ask God over and over on the journey, “Are we there yet?”

Most of my life hopes are that my life will be easy and filled with happiness. I did a fairly extensive study on the subject of joy a number of years ago. The study was prompted by a comment my North Carolina pastor made about how much scripture had to say about joy, implying we’d be so excited to know how much earthly joy was  in store for us in our walk with God. So with joyful anticipation, I started my study. I was surprised all right, but it wasn’t a joyful surprise; the surprise was how often scripture related our joy as being a joy in the midst of suffering – not exactly what I was hoping for. My favorite scripture of that concept is, again from the Jerusalem Bible Hebrews 12:2 Let us not lose sight of Jesus, who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection: for the sake of the joy which was still in the future, he endured the cross, disregarding the shamefulness of it … [emphasis mine].

Finally, the scripture on which the title of today’s musing is based, Hebrews 11:8 [JB] It was by faith that Abraham obeyed the call to set out for a country that was the inheritance given to him and his descendants, and that he set out without knowing where he was going. [again, the emphasis is mine]

I suppose what I learn from all this is that the Cheshire Cat isn’t God and if I’m getting my answers of which fork to take from the Cheshire Cat it probably doesn’t matter which one I take. But when I’m walking with God, even if it seems I’m going the roundabout way, my joy feels more like endurance than happiness, and I feel like I haven’t a clue where I’m going, I can still rest in the knowledge that He said in Jeremiah 29:11 [NIV], ‘For I know the plans I have for you,declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’

October 2, 2009

Walking in this World

Filed under: Walking — dmbr622 @ 11:41 pm
Tags: , ,

This afternoon I went for my 20-minute weekly walk. I was heading to Toastmasters so I chose to drive to Will Rogers Rose Garden to do my walk. I hadn’t been since my daughter’s wedding there a few days over 20 years ago.

I took my camera and took 115 photos as I walked around the park. As I reviewed the photos I thought, “This is my Father’s world.”P1012029

This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world: I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas;
His hand the wonders wrought.

P1012023

Notice the character in the shape of the trees; as the sun moved a little lower in the sky it reflected on the branches. What an amazing world we have.

The park is obviously a friendly place because the squirrels and ducks had no fear and seemed willing to sit for photo ops. I walked down toward the water’s edge and a squirrel leaped up on a rock and took a moment to face me before he P1012026scurried off to bury the nut in his mouth in a nearby lower bed.

The water was incredibly smooth and the foliage reflected on it was beautiful and calming.

The rich colors of the flowers, the interesting P1012075shapes of leaves, and the variations of greens and browns enhanced by the play of the sunlight on it made the walk a joy.

By the time I got back to the place I had entered, the sun was further down in the sky and the clear pond was reflecting yellow and orange on the water and the geese had come out to swim and play.

P1012109What a joy to take a walk in my Father’s world and see his beauty all around. How wonderful to realize God in Genesis said, “Let us make man in our image.” God is creative – look at the amazing variety of color and shape and texture – and I am made in His image.

Julia Cameron in Walking in this World said “Practicing our creativity is healing. Not because we are sick but because we are essentially well. As we express our intrinsic nature, which is beautiful and specific, particular and original, we experience a healing transformation less in ourselves than in our relationship to the world.”

Look at the stock from which we came – God himself. How could we be anything less than “beautiful and specific, particular and original?” As Ethel Waters said, “God don’t make no junk.”

October 1, 2009

Walking With God

The modern ballet and oratorio, Saviour, opens with the creation story; in the opening scene God sings of the beauty and mystery of his creation that has no one there to appreciate it; then Adam awakens to the sounds and beauty of creation, and God and Adam sing a lyrical love duet. I wish a fully staged and choreographed video were available online; it is beautiful, both musically and conceptually.

In Genesis 3:8 we hear the next step in the creation story: “And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking [emphasis obviously mine] in the garden in the cool of the day…” His voice would have been the voice of invitation to join Him on His walk in the garden, but we know the rest of the story for Adam and his wife, Eve – after being disobedient, they “hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God …” and when God asked Adam where he was, he replied, “I heard the sound of you and I was afraid, so I hid.”

In spite of God’s invitation to Adam to walk with Him in the garden and His invitation to Abram to walk in His presence, I think many of us, like Adam, play hide and seek with God rather than walk with Him. Sometimes we hide in the hopes He won’t know what we’re thinking or doing; sometimes we seek Him (mostly at times of need); other times it seems as if He hides from us.

If we take a cue from comedians and therapists and ask ourselves, “How’s that working for you?” rather than hiding from God, we might decide to try God’s invitation to walk with Him. I’m not at all clear what that may mean in my everyday life. I’ve been reading a book on creativity by Julia Cameron called, Walking in this World. She says, “Nothing brings home the beauty and power of the world that we live in like walking. Moving into our bodies, we embody the truth that as artists we are out to make a ‘body of work,’ which means we must encompass more than each day’s march. A Weekly Walk helps us to acquire such an overview. It allows us to find both perspective and comfort. As we stretch our legs, we stretch our minds and our souls. St. Augustine, himself a great walker, remarked, ‘Solvitur ambulando’ – ‘it is solved by walking.’ The ‘it’ that we solve may be as particular as a bruising romance or as lofty as the conception of a new symphony. Ideas come to us as we walk. We also invite their quieter friend, insight. Walking often moves us past the ‘what’ of our life into the more elusive, ‘why.’”

If, as the creation story tells us, we were made in God’s image, and if we see Him in the pages of the Bible walking and inviting us to join Him, might it not be worth giving it a try. Ms. Cameron only suggests a 20-minute walk a week – that’s not a lot. I’m not sure the typical exercising walk we take with IPOD blaring out country music or rap or songs of lost love and longing will be the avenue to a connection to the God who made us and loves us. Another song, an old hymn, may hold a better key:

I come to the garden alone IMG_0888
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

He speaks, and the sound of His voice,
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing.

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

September 30, 2009

I’m Making a Journey, Lord.

Cynthia Clawson, on her 1978 record, sang a song called The Journey; its lyrics are:

“I’m making a journey, Lord
The greatest journey of all!
My steps may fail, Lord
So please don’t let me fall
The way is narrow, Lord!
And sometimes I feel alone.
When my heart fears, Lord,
I softly pray this song,

‘Give me the heart to be pure
Give me the faith to be sure
Give me the strength to endure,
All my tribulations!’

I need some courage, Lord…
To make it just one more mile…
I want to hold Your hand,
And I want to see You smile!

‘Give me the heart to be pure
Give me the faith to be sure
Give me the strength to endure
All my tribulations!’

Most of us (adults, too) live life like children on a trip – “Are we there yet?” In that lifestyle of anticipating the next step [‘can’t wait ’til Friday … ’til I can drive … ’til I’m 21 … ’til I graduate … ’til I marry … ’til vacation … ’til I look better in my swimsuit … ’til I retire, etc.]  we don’t take the opportunity to fully experience the present moment. Life isn’t so much about our destination as it is about the journey.

I’m a reader! Note the exclamation point – it’s not grammatically correct, but pertinent to me. When my daughter, Kay, was practice teaching a unit on punctuation (and specifically the exclamation mark) to first graders, she asked for a sentence that would show excitement and thus require an exclamation mark. One of the six-year-old girls then gave an example similar to the one at the beginning of this paragraph. Kay reiterated that the exclamation mark was to be used to show excitement. The girl replied, “But it does excite me.” I loved her enthusiasm and that’s why I used the exclamation mark. You may be thinking, “And your point is?”

Sometimes I read a simple phrase or sentence that impacts me deeply [I am unable to contain myself and so I share them]. That was the case many years ago when I was reading Francois Fenelon’s book, Christian Perfection, and he quoted Genesis 17:1b (from the French) translated as “Walk in my presence, and you will be perfect.” I learned many years ago that the word perfect in the Bible doesn’t mean flawless as we are prone to think; rather it has more of the connotation of finished, completed or whole. The impact that translation opened for me was not so much in the end result but in the process, which was “walk in my presence.”

In the Bible the word walk is often used to mean live – in this case, “live your life in my presence.” As a person who loves words, I think it’s important to note the word is an active verb – remember from English classes that a verb is a word that denotes an action. It doesn’t say, “pray in my presence’ or ‘meditate in my presence,’ [sacred activities] but rather, ‘walk [or live] in my presence.’

Too often, we are tempted to relegate God to Sundays or religious holidays or times of tragedy or need, but the Genesis 17:1b concept is that God is always present. Actually, the word translated ‘presence’ means turned or facing. The importance of that distinction is that many of us would hope God is walking with us in the direction we are going. Our prayers often have an element of, “God, bless me in this …” The distinction in God’s instruction was not that He was going to walk with Abram whereever he walked [though He is omnipresent], but that God was asking Abram to always be turned to face His direction.

Obviously, I’m neither flawless nor finished, so there are times when I’m not living as an active verb nor am I facing God’s way or even if I am facing Him, I may not be in motion. Staying connected to God through His word is a little like plugging in a GPS that keeps telling me I’m heading the wrong way and repeating, “As soon as possible, turn …”

Which leads me back to that Genesis passage, clarified: “Walk and live turned to face me and in the process/journey you will be made whole, finished, complete.” It isn’t about me and what I accomplish but it is about the One I’m walking with and toward and the fact that I’m not going it alone.

When I was in high school [Capitol Hill High School in Oklahoma City] we had a fabulous choir and the absolutely best choir director ever (Albert Ossenkop – Ozzie). He gave us two things besides a love of and a joy in music: our choir scripture, which he read to us before every performance we did:

Psalms 121:1-8 (KJV)
1 I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
2 My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth.
3 He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber.
4 Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The LORD is thy keeper: the LORD is thy shade upon thy right hand.
6 The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.
7 The LORD shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.
8 The LORD shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.

and our choir song, sung throughout our choir experience and at our graduation, “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” from Carousel. The lyrics are:

When you walk through a storm
Hold your head up high
And don’t be afraid of the dark.
At the end of the storm
Is a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of a lark.

Walk on through the wind,
Walk on through the rain,
Tho’ your dreams be tossed and blown.Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone,
You’ll never walk alone.

The first time in the musical the song is sung it is when Julie tries to sing it immediately following the death of her husband. Her voice breaks as she cries and Nettie takes up the song for her. At the end of the movie, as Billy and Julie’s daughter, Louise, is graduating from high school in sadness at what she’s experienced in life, the commencement speaker asks the students to remember the words of the song and they all rise and sing it together. I’ve provided a link to a youtube clip from the ending scene in the movie where it is sung by the graduating class; it is one of my favorite songs.

As we walk in His presence, we are never alone.

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