Notes from Life's 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
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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.


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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