messengers

messengers

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We had a rough week. 

It wasn’t related to the Coronavirus, but yet it was. The parameters established, although critical, can make situations more challenging and ladle stress on top of what already resided. The details aren’t important because I am confident at this crisis point, we can all fill in the blank regarding a hard circumstance compounded because of new limitations.

Today is better.

This past week when I was feeling a bit fragile and shaky, I paid particular attention to the words  read and heard. There seemed to be a repetition of words as well as harmony of theme.  I would have missed the impact of these words if I hadn’t decided to slow down, shunning stress and anxiety.

I don’t believe in coincidences. I believe what some might call a coincidence is simply a messenger or an invitation to pay attention. 

Over the years, I have practiced lectio divina which means divine or spiritual reading. Now before these Latin words cause you to glaze over, think of these two words as describing the posture you could take while listening to a friend. 

Imagine a friend sharing a piece of wisdom or insight. You listen and mull the words over in your mind. This is possible because you have made time, no hurrying or rushing to the next appointment.  You ask your friend to utter the words again and once again you listen, lingering over the words to see if they take on any new meaning. Without fear of redundancy or seeing rolling eyes, you ask your dear friend to say the words once more, because these are good words.  Your friend smiles, speaks the words aloud and now the conversation begins.

In lectio divina, you are the one who speaks the words aloud. You are the one who mulls and reflects and turns the words and phrases upside down until you are right side up. You are the one who initiates conversation with your Maker.

So many spoken words surround us on a given day. News reports, bad news, phone calls, words during a meeting, kids bickering over the remote control, or simply the people in your home talking loudly. 

How often do you read aloud, softly, and slowly?

When was the last time you heard words spoken over yourself, in your voice?

 What if you paused and considered what these particular words could teach or guide you on this particular day?

What if instead of reading words quickly and moving to the next task, you allowed yourself to linger over words over, over, and over again? 

How many epiphanies have been missed because of refusing to slow down and sit with words?

 Perhaps you might exit the time of lectio divina with a lighter heart, a new resolve, or with renewed hope. 

My invitation to you is to try lectio divina. 

I will guide you.  

Last week, I kept stumbling across two scriptures and a very well-known prayer. I heard the verses on podcasts and read them in books. The prayer was repeatedly posted by attendees in the chatbox of my Weight Watchers virtual meeting. Go figure.
I tend to rush over passages I know quite well. But when I read the words out loud and without hurrying, I uncover unmined gems.

Below I have included the prayer and the two scriptures I found great comfort in this past week.

Choose one.

Following these three options, I adapted the practice of lectio divina for you and have provided additional resources at the end of this post.

 

/1/

The Serenity Prayer

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;

courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

 

/2/

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.  Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4: 6-7 (NLT)


/3/

That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing?  Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are?  Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are.  And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear? These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Matthew 6:25-34 (NLT)

*****

  • Find a quiet place. I realize this could be a challenge during this time. 
  • If you desire, a pen and journal can be helpful to have on hand to jot down any thoughts which arise. 
  • Take a few breaths as you anticipate the gift of this invitation. 

 

Read the passage slowly and aloud.

What words or phrases stand out?
What do you sense God is saying to you through these words or phrases?

Take a moment to listen.

 

Read slowly and aloud a second time.

From those words and phrases, is there an invitation God is extending to you?
How do these words or phrases apply to your life right now?

Take a moment to listen.

 

Read slowly and aloud for a final time.

Journal your thoughts, questions, concerns, resistance, desire to change directions, or simply speak these words and have a conversation with God.
What do you need from God?
What can you thank Him for?
What are you grateful for?

 

Well done, friend. 

You can practice with any passage of your choosing. I hope you will.

Keep listening.

*****

May we experience familiar words in new and fresh ways this week.
May the loss of familiar ways draw us closer to God who longs to settle our spirits.
May we breathe and allow our spoken voice to bring new revelation or gentle comfort.
May we slow down and give ourselves permission to be soothed by our Maker.

 

More about lectio divina.

I have used this journal over the years.

This book.

 

let your cup overflow

let your cup overflow

Blog post for slow collection

One of the reasons I wanted to write about living and moving at a slower pace is illustrated in the following hour or two in my life. It’s a small passage of time that revealed my impatience, propensity to hurry and pettiness. I could add other adjectives but, you know, I’m trying to be conscious of word count. 

During Christmas break, my son Caleb had dinner plans across the city from our home. The location of the meal was just far enough away it didn’t make sense to divvy the driving between me and Carl or to return home after drop-off only to return in short order for pick up. 

I decided to take a book, find a warm place to read and wait. I remembered a nearby Starbucks from a previous waiting scenario and was delighted to find several open chairs, cushioned just enough for passing time.

The young woman who took my tea order was cheerful and engaging.  It was hard not to notice thin raised lines running the length of her left upper arm in contrast to her right arm, a colorful sleeve of ink.  Each side a visual of pain in different dimensions. I hoped it was a testimony of inner and outer healing.

 There were several tables dotted with men in conversation and every so often another member would step across the door’s threshold, causing an eruption of laughter and welcome.

I staked claim of my seat, set my cup upon the side table situated between me and an adjacent padded chair and opened my book. 

After about 15 minutes, a man sat down with coffee and proceeded to blow his nose more than sip his drink. He stayed for about 10 minutes and was on his way. I was relieved.

Another ten minutes passed and an older man nabbed the vacant seat and spread his bounty of food and drink, covering the table. I am sure there is an associated emoji for how I eyed this action. I am sure I inwardly sighed as he buttered, torn open and crumpled his bags and liberally seasoned his food with salt and pepper. I know I snapped a discreet table photo and sent it to my daughters with a comment about the virtues of sharing space after he pulled the table towards him, almost toppling my stoppered tea. 

I resumed my reading after picking up my phone a few times to read the emoji and gif littered text responses when the man asked me if two giggling brown-faced children sitting at a high table across the cafe were mine. I replied no and pointed to their parents sitting in mirror-imaged chairs to ours. 

I set my gaze upon my book and attempted to locate my last read sentence. He continued to express his worry the children might fall if not watched properly. We conversed back and forth for a few minutes. It was harmless really. But then from what context of our conversation I am not certain, he began telling me about his great-great-grandfather and how Indians tried to take his land while living in Montana. I didn’t have a response and to be honest, I wanted the conversation to end. I picked up my phone hoping for a text to appear, informing me my time was up.

I attempted to direct the conversation to a different subject. He rose to fetch additional napkins from the counter and I took this as my opportunity to assume a forceful reading posture as if I were a superhero of the literary kind. For a small passage of time, my victory was clear as there was not a sound except for the tide of conversation, laughter, and frothing swirling about us.

My phone’s telltale ding alerted me that Caleb was ready for a lift. I told the gentleman I was heading out and the reason why I had tarried.

I gathered my belongings and stood up. 

“…but what I am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing.
I do not know You, God, because I am in the way.
Please help me to push myself aside.”*

He lifted his face towards mine and asked,

“Did you have a nice Christmas?”

In as few words as possible, I answer him by telling him, I did have a nice Christmas, it was simple, quiet and lovely.

I ask him about his Christmas and hoped for an equally quick answer as my foot needed to be attached to an accelerator.

He paused and quietly replied,

“My Christmas wasn’t so good. My wife died 10 days ago.”

My mouth widens and I sit down.

For the next ten to fifteen minutes, Darryl shares about his wife, his sorrow and the pre-existing splinters within his family which would require more than a tweezer or needle to remove the nagging ache. 

My book is in my bag, my phone is in my pocket and my eyes are affixed to him. When I glance down, I reacquaint myself with the remains of his meal. Perhaps this partially consumed spread is considered dinner when a home is suddenly empty. 

I truly need to leave but how can I leave? 

My watch buzzes every so often and I know my messenger’s identity.

When it feels like the right moment, I tell Darryl my need to retrieve my son. I express my sorrow for his huge loss and the grief he must be feeling. I ask if he would like me to pray for him. It is truly all I can even think to offer. I don’t expect him to consent but he slides his hand to an open spot on the table closer to me.

In the midst of hands exchanging cash for nourishment and huddled voices seeking community, I touch the top of his hand and pray words that can only be accomplished by One mightier than me demonstrating my best superhero pose. I whisper words to the One who is always there in the midst of our darkest days, even when the world continues to spin as usual. He’s the One who knows my impatience, hustling, and inward-turning ways and tenderly offers me a seat to grace me with a better, clearer view.

When I arrive at the restaurant, Caleb is unbothered by my tardiness, figuring something important must have come up to delay my arrival. 

Caleb’s friend needs a ride home as well and as we drive the rain-soaked streets, I explain the reason for my lateness and don’t delete any unvarnished parts regarding me.

They listen in silence and I hope it’s not because they are absorbed in scrolling their phones. When I finish, they both agree Darryl had a crummy Christmas and they were glad I listened.

I am glad I listened too.

Eventually. 


*Flannery O’Connor-A Prayer Journal