Posts Tagged ‘Bible’

This is a reflection on Lent that I was asked to give this morning at our church’s Easter sunrise service, and it seemed like maybe I should share it here, too:



I didn’t give up anything for Lent this year and I didn’t adopt any practices to focus my attention.  Honestly, the last year has afforded me plenty of faith-stretching and faith-testing experiences, and I really wasn’t in the mood.

At some point during Lent, I was drawn to reading through all of the lenten lectionary texts.  If this was a conscious decision, I didn’t tell myself.  I didn’t want to “decide” to do something and then fail; I’ve had enough of that, too.

The first reading of Psalm 51 on Ash Wednesday utterly captivated me “in your great tenderness wipe away my offences” (New Jerusalem Bible).  Why should this be so surprising to a life-long, deeply devoted Christian?  Somehow, in my imagination, I had construed Lent as a time of spiritual self-flagellation.  Reading this Psalm, rather than tightening the chains of mortification, began a process of loosing those chains and setting me on a journey to a freedom I have never known before.

On and on, in text after text, the same life-giving refrain was repeated:  where I expected judgment, there was mercy; where I expected criticism, there was loving kindness.  And the more I read, the more I craved reading and experienced in fresh ways the great khesed, or loving kindness, of God.

Given that I spent seven years teaching Bible at a university, I find it sometimes ironic, sometimes sad, and sometimes comical how often I forget and find myself in need of reminding about these things.  The witness of scripture can be especially powerful if one suffers from the same know-it-all syndrome that I do.

I am also reminded that Lent is a journey — an opportunity to create space for the presence of God, within oneself and within the world.  And as it seems that I forget so easily, I’m glad that it is a journey that we have the opportunity to take every year  – for Christ is risen!


Read Full Post »

Continue to Complete



It’s a bit of a paradox, isn’t it?  Or maybe that’s just Paul.  Whatever you call it, the phrase “continue to complete” is what struck me on the first reading of Paul’s Letter to the Philippians 1.4-6, 8-11.


My first thought was that on the spiritual journey, we’re always striving for completion – not so much in the sense of being “finished” or “done”, but “fulfilled” and “made whole”.  That can seem a little depressing, to always be working at something that is never finished.  There’s such wonderful satisfaction in finishing a long worked-on project.


Ah, but I am not the doer of the action.  It is not for me to do the completing.  “The One who began a good work in you will continue to complete it”.  Well, that’s a bit of a relief.  At least I’m off the hook for getting it all finished before “the day of Christ Jesus.”  Sort of.


Then Paul gets to the actual substance of his prayer: “that your love may increase ever more and more”.  Most of us are keenly aware of the power of love, and the power of love to hurt.  Having your heart broken can understandably make you reluctant to open your heart up to love and trust again.  From this perspective, Paul’s prayer sounds more like a threat.  The more you love, the more you can get hurt.


Maybe.  But as the capacity for love grows within us, it not only enlarges our hearts, but it transforms them.  And many of the things that used to cause us pain, no longer affect us in the same way.  We are no longer so easily offended as our compassion for others becomes our primary concern, rather than the maintenance of our egos.  As we continue in this way, we are less susceptible to being tossed around by circumstances, and increasingly at peace during even the most troubling times.


As I began the prayer portion of Lectio, I first was thankful that I didn’t have to do all the work myself.  With not a few over-achiever tendencies, I can fall easily into the me-do-it-myself rut.  My next thought, after being thankful that I don’t have to do it myself, was something to the effect of “because I’m worthless on my own”.  And right then I stopped myself.  That’s nonsense.  Because I am, because I am a creature of God, I am not worthless.  Honestly, that’s hard to admit.  I believe things I do are worthwhile and valuable, but as a person I struggle with my sense of self-worth.  It’s one of my greatest doubts.


What does it mean to be “complete” then?  I think it means to have the very heart of God, and if God is literally full of love and compassion, God must also then be completely devoid of ego.  No wonder God is so good at forgiveness.


And that’s when a small miracle of transformation took place, right inside of my own heart.  Like the Grinch who stole Christmas, my heart grew a few sizes when it increased in capacity to love myself.  When it seems that so much hatred and fear is derived from the brokenness within ourselves, learning to love and forgive ourselves can go a long way to learning to have compassion and love for others.

Read Full Post »

Seasoned with Peace

Part 1, WINTER


And now, for a commercial…


Seasoned with Peace WINTER is here!  It is the first of four seasonal books with “Practical help for becoming a biblical, prayerful, playful peacemaker”, compiled by Susan Mark Landis, Lisa J. Amstutz, and Cindy Snider.


It is a daily devotional that begins January 1, which includes reflections, prayers, recipes, crafts, projects, information, poetry, and action steps.   And the best part is, it doesn’t take itself too seriously.


This book makes a lovely Christmas gift — consider even getting a “subscription” for someone by ordering SPRING, SUMMER, and FALL as they come out.


The cost is $15.95 with approximately $9 going to peace and justice work!  An individual order of 5 books or more can be discounted at $12 each, but that just means less goes to peace and justice work.  All the work for it has been volunteer, with proceeds going to support Mennonite Church USA Peace and Justice Support Network.


They are available at: http://seasonedwithpeace.blogspot.com/ There are also sample entries on the website, a little sneak peak, if you will.


P.S.  Several of my entries, including craft projects, recipes and reflections will be in the SPRING edition:)

P.P.S.  If you have a reflection, recipe, poem, prayer, or craft project you’d like to contribute, email Susan at peaceforallseasons@gmail.com

Read Full Post »

The Prayer of the Ox

illustration by Jean Primrose


The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath. Mark 2.27


I’ve been thinking a lot about the sabbath lately, and what it really means to stop.  Perhaps you may have guessed that from yesterday’s post.  Both in this section of Mark, as well as the 12th chapter of Matthew, Jesus confronts the legal fundamentalists (or rather they confront him) about sabbath-breaking and sabbath-keeping.


There’s a lot to be said about those passages, and many have said it better than I could anyway.  According to Jesus, it’s not about the avoidance of any kind of work at all (one could pull one’s donkey out of a hole, for example).  As I think about sabbath, the aspect of it that stands out to me the most is economic, and specifically profit.


I’ve already made the decision that I won’t work at a place of employment on the sabbath.  It was a hard decision, especially when one is not in a position to be turning down work.  And I wonder how many of my applications for employment have been turned down because of that.


That decision was made quite a while ago, and for the most part once it was made, it wasn’t hard to keep.  Making the decision was the difficult part.  Deciding that there would be one day a week that I wouldn’t profit from my work, which set the day apart from the rest of the week, that was hard.


And now it seems I’m at a new crossroads in my sabbath-thinking.  If I’ve decided that I won’t work, what does it mean for me to engage in an activity that depends upon the work of another person?  I don’t know that I’d quite say it forces them to work – but maybe it does.  I’m not ready to make a decision yet, but it is something that I’m thinking about, and considering how I might further orient my life around keeping the sabbath.


Without work on the sabbath, there is time.  Time to think, time to be.  The space that is normally consumed by our work, our errands, and all our running around, is finally left wide open.  And when I think about how much we all seem to crave more time, I think about another prayer from Prayers from the Ark, “The Prayer of the Ox”, that beast of burden:



Dear God, give me time.

Men are always so driven!

Make them understand that I can never hurry.

Give me time to eat.

Give me time to plod.

Give me time to sleep.

Give me time to think.



Read Full Post »

Lectio THEN: Psalm 10 (June 10, 2009) New Jerusalem Bible

“His speech is full of lies and browbeating, under his tongue lurk spite and wickedness”

What lurks in me?  The anxiety and dread: “He keeps watch crouching down low, the poor wretch falls into his clutches.”  This is what happens when I go into that cave from yesterday’s lectio, and I think I need to solve all my problems on my own.  But I can’t; the temptation to succumb to the lies and browbeating is too great.

“You give them courage”.  I need courage to trust you.  You tell me when I ask “Why, Yahweh, do you keep so distant” that there is no distance between us.  I only need to remember you, to call my awareness to the present where you are and where you say “I AM” – I AM is a present tense verb.

I spend most of my time in the future, consumed with anxiety and dread.  When I see that cave, Lord, give me the courage to not go in and fall into its clutches.  Give me courage to call on you so that I may turn away, trusting you with the dark and scary things that lurk in that cave beneath the water.  Help me to develop and cultivate the habit of calling on you, and constantly remembering you.


Lectio NOW: Psalm 10 (November 5, 2010) New Jerusalem Bible

Why, Yahweh, do you keep so distant?

If I know someone is hiding, it makes me really nervous.  Even if I know who it is, and even if they’re a loved-one, and even if it is all in good fun, I’m still nervous.  It’s some deep, subterranean terror that takes over and all my rational faculties are powerless against it.  From there, it’s one tiny step from fear to anger.  When it is God that I sense to be hiding from me, it’s one tiny step from anger to apathy.

This psalm is full of contrasts between God and the wicked, distance and proximity, looking and hiding/turning away.  The opening question is so human, and so easy to identify with: Why, Yahweh, do you keep so distant, stay hidden in times of trouble? Who has seen God come to immediate aid in times of trouble?  Maybe some of us, but most often we’re left asking why?

A bit further on, I’m stung by verse four.  The wicked in his arrogance does not look very far; “There is no God,” is his only thought. What is so striking to me is the contrast between the question in verse one about the ‘distance’ of God, and the wicked one who ‘does not look very far’.

Every contemplative (and wannabe-contemplative like me) will say that being aware is key to living a life in the presence of God.  Because God is always right here, but stuff (and other “s” words) gets in the way.  Seeing is a major human problem.

This psalm reminds me that my perception that God is hiding, isn’t the same as someone hiding who’s out to get me. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that God won’t try to trick us by giving us a snake when we ask for a fish (Matthew 7.10).  God does not aim to harm me.  But that’s what I accuse him of when I can’t see him.  Like the person whose eyes are only on his steps in verse five, I don’t see the judgment hanging right over my head.

And what is the judgment for me?  Am I a wicked one?  Sometimes, maybe.  I can certainly be arrogant, trying to do everything on my own.  And then God lets me try, and I bring judgment down on my own head, in sort of self-fulfilled prophecy.  If I act as though I am alone, then I will most certainly experience it to be true.

This psalm doesn’t give us any real closure by showing God finally coming to the aid of the oppressed.  It ends with a cry for justice, and maybe with an opportunity to choose a new way to see.

Read Full Post »

The Lectionary conversation

For a long time I was in the habit of reading all four Lectionary texts before going to church on Sunday.  My church at that time didn’t necessarily follow the Lectionary readings, but it was a devotional habit that helped give shape to the year in terms of the Christian story.  (For a great introduction to what the Lectionary is, click here.)  The more I read, the more I became interested in the space that was created when all four texts were read together.  Put another way, if each passage was a different voice sitting around the kitchen table, what would their conversations be about from Sunday to Sunday?

This past Sunday, a few friends and I got together to do an experiment to test this question.  I chose the texts from the last Sunday of the liturgical year, November 28th, The Reign of Christ Sunday, or more traditionally, Christ the King Sunday.  I printed each passage out separately and gave one to each person.  I deliberately did not read them myself, so as not to bias the conversation.  We each had a pair of scissors and a pencil.  As we began we each read over our passage a few times to familiarize ourselves with our text, but we did not read them out loud to each other.

When everyone was ready, I gave the invitation for anyone to cut out any phrase or verse that seemed like a good “conversation starter”.  We looked at that phrase, and whoever felt that something in their passage responded to the opener in a fitting way also cut out a phrase, sentence or verse, and taped it to the first line.  We continued in this way until we had used every line from each of the four passages.

I imagine that every time this would be done, and with every different group of people, the “conversation” would be different because the people are different.  Thinking of the biblical text as the “living word” would mean that it would continue to unfold and take on new meaning every time it is read, through every circumstance and experience of life.

I would love to know what you hear these texts to be “talking about”.  Here’s the “transcript” of the conversation between Jeremiah 23.1-6, Psalm 46, Luke 23.33-43, and Colossians 1.11-20 (New Revised Standard Version):

(Col 11-12)           May you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father.

(Luke 35)            And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying,

(Jer 1-2)              Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord.  Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them.  So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord.

(Ps 1-3)                God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, thought he earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. (Selah)

(Col 11)                 May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and

(Luke 43)            He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

(Col 13-15)            He has rescued us form the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

(Ps 7-8)                 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.  (Selah)  Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth.

(Jer 3-4)                 The I myself with gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply

(Col 18b)            so that he might come to have first place in everything

(Ps 10-11)            “Be still and know that I am God!  I am exalted among the nation, I am exalted in the earth.”  The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.  (Selah)

(Jer 6)               In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety.  And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

(Col 12b)            who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.

(Luke 41)            And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.

(Ps 9)                    He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the blow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.

(Jer 5)                    The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.

(Col 16-18)            for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers – all things have been created through him and for him.  He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,

(Col 15)                  He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation

(Luke 38-40)        There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah?  Save yourself and us!”  But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?”

(Col 20)              and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

(Luke 35-37)    “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!”  The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”

(Ps 6)                The nations are in uproar, the kingdoms totter;

(Luke 34)            [Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”]  And they case lots to divide his clothing.

(Jer 4)                  I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.

(Luke 42)            Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

(Col 19)                For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,

(Ps 5)                    God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it

(Luke 33)             When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.

(Ps 4)                   There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.

(Ps 6b)                     He utters his voice, the earth melts.

(Ps 5)                        The morning dawns.

Read Full Post »

Overcoming Inertia

“I do not do the things I want to do, and the things I don’t want to do I do.”  (Paraphrased from Romans 7.15)


I have experienced this verse to be true in my life perhaps more than any other passage of Scripture.  It surprises me that a person as willful as I can be, can also be unable to do the things she allegedly wants to do.  After all, if I really wanted to I would, right?  And yet… there seem to be obstacles that prevent me from doing what I want to do.  So what are they, and how can I overcome them?


The first thing that comes to mind is my resistance to routine.  I seem to be unable to create a routine for myself and then keep it.  I do fine with routines that are somehow externally imposed: getting up at a certain time, making lunches for myself and my husband, going to work, etc., always done in a timely manner.  But when creating a routine for myself on a day off, or when working from home, I resist.  I say things like “I don’t want to feel trapped” or “I don’t want to be restricted”.  However, when I really look at the difference between my “free-flow” days and my routine days, things that are part of the routine days get done, while of all the things I want to do on my “free” days very little actually gets done.


After witnessing my patterns with routine days and free days over and over, I’ve decided that if there is something that I want to do, something that I want to become a regular part of my life, I piggy-back it onto an existing part of a routine in order to get into a new habit with it.


For example, I had become in the habit of practicing centering prayer every morning for almost a year (I’m still working on Sundays – a break in the routine).  But when we moved to a new city my old routine was dismantled, and for weeks I found myself unable to “find time” to pray – ridiculous as I had all the time in the world with no other commitments.  It wasn’t until a new routine emerged that I was able to “find time” to pray regularly again.  In my old routine I would get up, take a shower, pray, make lunch and go to work.  Now, I get up, get some coffee, make my husband’s lunch and take him to school, then come home and pray.  As I’m driving home, part of the routine is reminding myself that as soon as I get home I’m going to pray.  In other words, the driving home part of the routine triggers the next part of the routine, time for prayer.


There are other things that I don’t do because for whatever reason there is an element of fear, uncertainty, or anxiety associated with them.  Maybe it’s just a two-minute phone call to volunteer at the soup kitchen, or running an errand at a new place.  Whatever the emotion that is preventing me, I have at times found it helpful to take a few minutes to myself to really look at the emotion.  I’m not analyzing it or judging it, just looking at it and really feeling it.  After a few minutes I realize that the fear I’m feeling is just an emotion, it’s nothing of substance, and then it passes.  I find I’m then able to do whatever it was I had been reluctant to do.


At the same time, if there is a legitimate concern, that shouldn’t be ignored.  This applies more to thoughts like “what if they don’t like me?” or “what if I make a mistake?” – excuses I give that keep me at arms length from others.


I also find it helpful to pray for the desire to do a thing.  It may sound odd – but I pray for the desire to pray.  I pray that God would take what little desire is there, and increase it mustard-seed style (Matthew 13.31-32), so that it is something that I not only should do, but something I really want to do and look forward to.  In my experience, God does not delay in answering those kinds of prayers.


I’m sure there are as many obstacles to action and reasons for them as there are people.  These are just a few that I’ve observed myself doing battle with again and again.  If you have any tips for overcoming obstacles I invite you to share them with us all.  I for one need all the help I can get.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »