In the Creation account, the Lord made Adam a right-hand (wo)man because "It is not good for the man to be alone." (Gen 2:18)
In my socially-distanced conversations with many, several words are often voiced.
In the last two reflections, we've considered all except Isolated and Lonely. During this time of Stay at Home and Safer at Home, it may be that the greatest suffering for many has been isolation and loneliness. For the sake of our health, and the health of others, we are hunkered down and outside life is a grinding halt for many of us. We are isolated from the Covid virus and from the people and places that we love.
Isolation and quarantine are a means to seek to contain and control the spread of a dangerous disease. And, according to health officials, it has been working. But isolation is also a cruel thing. It can play with our minds. It makes us doubt who we are and what we know to be true. It invites us to put self-destructive thoughts on repeat and to lose our bearings. We can forget that God has been faithful. We may even wonder if He has forgotten us. Isolation is one of the cruel weapons of the Enemy of our souls.
We've seen two kinds of isolation that seem to me to be among the most cruel. I have a dear friend suffering with Parkinson's disease and living in a senior care facility who turned 81 last weekend. Her friends came to her nursing home window and sang happy birthday. A blessed respite from her hours of lonely isolation. I'm thankful for these friends who could go.
Second, the stories of Covid patients dying without the family and friends who love them break my heart. I am thankful beyond measure for the chaplains, nurses and doctors who step into this gap and minister love and blessing to these dying ones. No one should die alone!
I'm saddened for the high school seniors who can't celebrate graduation with their friends. For the children who aren't meeting their BFFs on the playground. For the moms of young ones who can't have coffee to depressurize the stressful moments of 24/7 duty.
Human beings have been created for community, for relationship with God and with others. Being isolated from others creates a grievous void within us. One single friend told me that she misses the physical touch of a child's hug. Just two weeks into our Stay at Home orders, my granddaughter asked her mother if she could hug me yet. Whatever the age, forbidden physical touch has increased isolation and loneliness.
This is hard to write and hard to read. But there are two sources of community that respond well to the cruelty of isolation and loneliness.
First, God invites us to deeply grieve these hard experiences with Him.
Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. Psalm 62:8
Don't believe the Enemy's isolation lies that say God doesn't hear you or doesn't care. It's not true. God hears. God cares. In Christ, God shares the pain of isolation and loneliness. In the community of the Triune, God the Spirit is more present to you than you are to yourself.
Second, scripture tells us to cancel the cruelty of isolation by being willing "to weep with those who weep" (Rom 12:15) — even if this grief must be shared from a distance. Hiding our sorrow from others, ignoring this sorrow, or distracting ourselves from it, aren't answers to loneliness and sorrow. We are instructed to "Share each other's burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ" (Gal 6:2).
Who do you know who is isolated and lonely?
Who do you know who is walking through these lonely experiences?
Call them. Write them. Zoom with them.
If you are feeling the pain of isolation and loneliness, reach out. Tell someone. Call. Write. Zoom. Invite others to enter your story.
Merciful Father, minister to your beloved people in this time of separation. In the lonely times, bring your tangible presence. In the isolated hours when the Enemy whispers cruel lies, give Christ-courage to weary souls. Prompt them to pick up the phone! Remind us that we are alone together! In Jesus we pray. Amen
It's early-May and, in Colorado, life is slowly opening up. Social distancing and face masks won't be going away any time soon though. They are still "the law." And the virus will continue to be the world's unseen foe until a vaccine becomes a reality.
In my socially-distanced conversations with many, I often hear several words.
Last time, I wrote about Alone and Solitude. But what about the word Quarantined?
Personal freedom has defined America since the beginning. Freedom of speech and freedom to gather are in the core of our national identity. We instinctively push against confinement. But for the sake of our health, and the health of others, we are hunkered down and outside life is a grinding halt for many of us. Church is off-limits. Playgrounds and the gym hold unseen dangers. When we finally get to the barber shop or salon, a simple, desperately desired haircut will be "managed" from beginning to end.
We are quarantined and separated from the people, places and things that have defined our daily lives. We are submitted to our leaders, governmental and ecclesial, who say, "This is important." But like a child in the midst of a temper tantrum, many of us may be "sitting down on the outside but standing up on the inside." (We even see some who refuse to "sit down" altogether.)
Surrender and submission are two words that sit at odds to the ideology of personal freedom. Our faith in God, however, is modeled after the One who surrendered all.
Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matt 6:39)
Jesus surrendered his life and his death because God's will was his highest priority. Jesus trusted the Father's wisdom and plan for our salvation. It had to be this way. However, I often hear people say that they can trust God, but they can't trust people. I get it. People can wound and deal cruelly. Still, the Word is filled with instructions to submit to others.
Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor. 1Pet 2:13-17
Even though submitting goes against the grain, we are called to do it. Peter tells us to submit to human authorities and to submit to God. "For how long?", we ask. Understandable question. But maybe, the wrong question. Instead, "Lord, will you help me to surrender to you as a way of life?" Even when the waiting is long, we can trust the Father, like Jesus, in our life and our death.
Many of us are getting weary of Stay at Home and Safer at Home. Even introverts enjoy going to the library and coffee shop. But for the sake of our health, and the health of others, we are hunkered down and outside life is a grinding halt for many of us.
It's early-May and, in Colorado, life is slowly opening up. Social distancing and face masks won't be going away any time soon though. And the virus will continue to be the world's unseen foe until a vaccine becomes a reality.
In my socially-distanced conversations with many, several words are often voiced.
Let's consider these in a three part reflection. First: Alone. Solitude.
People are admitting that they've had enough alone-time. Solitude is a sacred space where the soul meets God's loving presence. However, if we're not sure that God is, in fact, loving and good, then solitude seems dangerous!
If God is disappointed in me, and if I'm disappointed in myself, then I avoid being alone with God and being alone with myself. I heard one person say, "I don't like being with myself these days." Forced solitude has brought her to seeking obsessive distraction.
Solitude is a formative place because it gives God’s Spirit time and space to do deep work. When no one is there to watch, judge and interpret what we say, the Spirit often brings us face to face with hidden motives and compulsions. The world of recognition, achievement and applause disappears, and we stand squarely before God without props. . . . [W]e need solitude if we intend to unmask the false self and its important-looking image. Alone, without distractions, we put ourselves in a place where God can reveal things to us that we might not notice in the normal preoccupations of life. Solitude opens a space where we can bring our empty and compulsive selves to God.
Just before his last week among his disciples, Jesus stood at the entrance of Jerusalem and grieved, saying, "Jerusalem, . . . how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing." (Mt 23:37, Lk 13:34)
In this Covid-time (and in every time), I believe that Jesus wants to lovingly gather his beloveds under his sheltering wings. He wants to show us things that we couldn't see when we felt free to distract ourselves from his gaze. He is inviting us to know Him, and to know ourselves, truly. When we are alone, we have space to hear his gracious invitation.
Are you resisting this time of solitude?
Turn away from distraction. Lift up your gaze. Take courage. Gaze upon the One who is gazing at you.
 Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us, 112-113.
“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”
Jesus could have gotten out of his suffering. Twelve legions of angel warriors would have come at his word. Angel armies with swords of fire could have dramatically and decisively changed the trajectory of the next three days.
But getting out of his suffering was far down the list of Jesus' greatest desires. Jesus wanted to obey his Father. And, in his obedience, Jesus was to be the agent of the ancient prophecies' fulfillment.
Salvation history narrowed into the time and space of this moment in the Garden of Gethsemane. And, it was to get narrower still until two wooden beams and three iron spikes accomplished what sin and evil required. This was as it must be.
Past: When have you given yourself permission to be with Jesus in the Garden? Remember, weep with Him, and give thanks.
Present: Consider again that scene in Gethsemane. In prayer, ask Jesus to help you understand the greater story of salvation history.
Future: We live in the "time and space between.” The cross of Jesus satisfied the need for atonement for the sins of the world but until Christ returns, we await the final fulfillment of the Scriptures. Remember what Christ said "yes" to as you wait for his final and victorious coming.
Abba Father, we grieve with Jesus' anguished soul in the Garden. We don't understand and yet we give you thanks for your mercy extended to us through Christ our Lord.
In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.
It has been a busy few months for the Buschart family. We decided it was time to engage the process of downsizing from our wonderful family home. After much effort to clean out closets and share many items we no longer need, our home sold quickly and we moved just a month after listing in late-July.
The endless labor and energy required for this task is astounding. We began the purging in February, one closet at a time. Countless daily to-do lists and trips to donation centers were our regular routine. Six months later, the house was ready.
The process was physically demanding and all-consuming (the reason why you haven't heard from me for a while!). But the emotional roller coaster was surprising even for two adults who are pretty self-aware.
Letting Go is hard and attachments to possessions are strong. Some possessions were easier to surrender than others. Ice skates neglected and unused for 25 years. Well-worn and rarely-worn sweaters. Fabulous heels that hurt my feet.
Other possessions hold sentimental value and these had to be considered carefully before passing them on to a donation center. I'm thankful that some pieces will stay in the family while an antique tea set, a hand-painted chocolate pot and cup, and other items made it to new homes to be enjoyed by others.
For me, Letting Go of my garden was, perhaps, the hardest of all. Twenty years ago, with the help of my mother, I planted my roses soon after we moved in. Her selections included Peace and Betty Prior and Mr. Lincoln. The birds that graced the feeders in my garden were prayer partners each morning.
True Letting Go always leads us to a point of darkness that may become a turning point of our lives. Uncertainty looms. What will happen if I stay, if I cling to what is? What will happen if I surrender the known of today to the unknown possibilities beyond? Fear says, "What if . . . ?" What if I need this again? What if I never again have a garden to plant or a rose so beautiful? What if I don't have a new place to pray and to feed birds? What if the memory of loved ones fades when I let go of this memento?
It is this point of darkness and these "What if . . ." anxieties, I think, that keep us hanging on, clinging to things we no longer need and to the illusion of control in the known.
A paraphrase of Psalm 25:1-2 has long been a "breath prayer" for me and it is important during this season of Letting Go. "Unto you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; I put my trust in you."
The Lord is bigger than the darkest turning points of life. He sees, cares for his own, knows what we need, never leaves or forsakes.
I lifted up every closet, every attachment and indecision. It wasn't always pretty and we weren't always on the same page. I've questioned whether we did the right thing and I've wondered if a place of peace would again be home.
We're still waiting and we're seeking to trust Him in the uncertainty.
This season of selling our family home has been a Letting-Go season for us. But Letting Go is everywhere and always. Big or small, hard or easy, Letting Go is a daily part of life as a disciple of Jesus. The topic is worthy of another post or two for Ruminations from my Journal.
In the meantime, where in your life are you experiencing the invitation of Letting Go? Are you resisting this invitation or embracing it?
Give me a call. I would cherish the opportunity to be a dialogue partner or your Soul Care Companion through your Letting-Go season.
I hope you will be "marked by ashes" today. The sign of the cross on our forehead is a blessed humiliation.
Ash Wednesday is obscure to many who follow God's Son. It is the beginning of Lent when we reflect that Jesus turned his face toward Jerusalem and the cross. Before we rush to Easter Resurrection we need time to pause and wait and wonder. The sweetness of Easter must be savored through the bitter of Lenten sorrow for sin.
Marked by Ashes by Walter Brueggemann (b. 1933)
Ruler of the Night, Guarantor of the day…
This day — a gift from you.
This day — like none other you have ever given, or we have ever received.
This Wednesday dazzles us with gift and newness and possibility.
This Wednesday burdens us with the tasks of the day, for we are already halfway home
halfway back to committees and memos,
halfway back to calls and appointments,
halfway on to next Sunday,
halfway back, half frazzled, half expectant,
half turned toward you, half rather not.
This Wednesday is a long way from Ash Wednesday,
but all our Wednesdays are marked by ashes --
we begin this day with that taste of ash in our mouth:
of failed hope and broken promises,
of forgotten children and frightened women,
we ourselves are ashes to ashes, dust to dust;
we can taste our mortality as we roll the ash around on our tongues.
We are able to ponder our ashness with
some confidence, only because our every Wednesday of ashes
anticipates your Easter victory over that dry, flaky taste of death.
On this Wednesday, we submit our ashen way to you --
you Easter parade of newness.
Before the sun sets, take our Wednesday and Easter us,
Easter us to joy and energy and courage and freedom;
Easter us that we may be fearless for your truth.
Come here and Easter our Wednesday with
mercy and justice and peace and generosity.
We pray as we wait for the Risen One who comes soon.
For the last several weeks, the story of the Good Samaritan has been rolling around in my heart and mind and has been messing with my life experiences. I'm in the middle of teaching a 23-week series on the Parables of Jesus. The parables surprise and challenge; they get under your skin and they make you uncomfortable.
As a result of "living" in Jesus' parables, I've noticed that my breath prayer has changed. [i] I've found myself asking God to "RESCUE".
The parable of the Good Samaritan is familiar, too familiar. In truth, it has recently rocked my world.
A quick recap: A man walked through a dangerous territory where thieves and bad guys took advantage of the mountainous terrain to do evil. The man was robbed and beaten and thrown into a ditch and left for dead. A priest and a Levite (reputation of "good" guys) walked by but neither of them wanted to go into the ditch to help the man. A Samaritan (reputation of "bad" guys) saw the man, went into the ditch and cared for him, took him to an inn and paid for the man's care. (Look again at Luke 10:25-37 for the full story.)
Another part of my experience these weeks comes from Colossians 1.
For He (God) has RESCUED us from the dominion of darkness
and brought us into the Kingdom of the Son he loves.
In Him, (Jesus the Son) we have redemption, the forgiveness of sin.
When I became a Jesus-follower forty years ago, these words described God's mercy and grace to me. I was young, stupid, striving to find myself and my place in the world. I was in a ditch and God rescued me.
The ditch is always in a dangerous territory. It is where the dominion of darkness and the Enemy of our souls do all kinds of evil. When we are bloodied and beaten in body or soul, the only way out of the ditch is the mercy of God. So, in my 20s I asked God to RESCUE me, to forgive me and to redeem me. For all these years I've lived mercifully and graciously RESCUED and redeemed. I'm grateful.
Some implications --
So we pray: Lord, rescue us that we may accompany you as you rescue others. Triune God, RESCUE. Amen.
[i] Breath Prayer is the word or phrase we use to acknowledge God's continual presence and to confess our ongoing, moment-by-moment need of his mercy and grace. One's breath prayer is a gift from the Spirit and may change with one's life experiences. Instead of praying the name of Jesus, or my long-time favorite— "Unto you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; I put my TRUST in you." I've found myself asking God to "Rescue."
At first reading these words from the first line of Psalm 23 could be understood as "wishful thinking" or pie-in-the-sky platitude.
Do we really have all that we need?
I need healing for my new hip and especially for the angry muscles that were stretched and abused during the surgery.
You need things too. You need jobs and meaningful work to pay rent or mortgage. You need food and clothing, shelter and safety, love and relationships in community where loneliness and longing can be shared. Tensions and conflicts need resolution. We all need to be heard and understood and validated as valuable human beings.
The first part of the verse is key to understanding. The psalmist uses a metaphor that can be lost on us who live an urban life. A sheep is dependent upon the care of the Shepherd. The Shepherd sees the sheep, knows them and their needs, protects and defends them from devouring predators, and provides for their needs. When we know ourselves as sheep cared for by the Lord who is Shepherd, we can rest in those green pastures that the psalmist refers to later.
Jesus says that everything we need will come when we seek and surrender to the love and care of the Father, the saving rescue of God's Son, and the comforting, generous presence of God's Spirit. We will still need jobs to pay rent, food and clothing, shelter and safety. But the Shepherd knows the needs of the sheep-- each and every one of them. The Shepherd is a generous provider.
So, we sheep pray: "Shepherd, I need you and I give you my needs. Help me recognize that you are caring for these needs even in the presence of uncertainty, hunger, or failure. Show me what I need to do even as I struggle to trust you with every circumstance. By faith I will say, 'The Lord is my Shepherd. I have everything I need.' In Jesus' name, Amen.
Last week, I ruminated about being a singing little girl who learned a lot of lyrics. These have stayed with me and continue to form me today.
I surrendered my heart and life to Jesus as Lord when I was twenty-two years old. I believe that before that time, the lyrics of the music I sang were the evangelist that continually invited me to come. My theology, that is, who I believe God to be—God the Father, God the Son and Savior, and God the Holy Spirit—was formed first through the lyrics of the music I sang.
Particularly, Christmas lyrics have taught me some enduring truths. Here are some of these truths that God continues to form within me.
1. The Father's Love: Of the Father's Love Begotten tells us that God's love for us was the motivating force for the Son's coming.
2. Jesus is God: Thou Dist Leave Thy Throne tells us that Jesus left his throne and his rule as the second member of the Trinity. "He is Alpha and Omega. He the Source the Ending He."[i] "He left behind his kingly crown when Thou camest to earth for me." [ii] Even me. Even you.
3. Weakness is strength: We despise weakness but God's economy is different than the world's economy. Infant Holy, Infant Lowly tells us a different story about weakness.
Infant holy, Infant lowly, for His bed a cattle stall;
Oxen lowing, little knowing Christ the babe is Lord of all.
The "Holy Infant, so tender and mild" from Silent Night (lyrics 1818) and the early 19th century lyrics of Once in Royal David's City tell us that though he was equal with God and Lord of all, he came to us as a weak and dependent infant. This was backwards and unexpected to those in Jesus' time who wanted the Messiah to be a powerful ruler who would overthrow evil. But the power of God is released in the infant Messiah who was also God. He will save his people from their sins.
Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee. [iii]
He came down to earth from heaven
Who is God and Lord of all
And His shelter was a stable
And His cradle was a stall
With the poor, oppressed and lowly
Lived on earth our Savior holy.[iv]
4. The Coming of Christ is a big deal: Hark! the Herald Angels Sing and While shepherds watched their flocks (both circa 1700) tell us how excited angels spilled out of heaven to celebrate that in the birth of Jesus on this night in Bethlehem, the long-awaited Redeemer of the sin of the world arrived on earth.
Hark! the herald angels sing, "Glory to the newborn King:
Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!
Joyful, all ye nations, rise, Join the triumph of the skies;
With th'angelic host proclaim, "Christ is born in Bethlehem!
Christ, by highest heav'n adored; Christ, the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come, Offspring of the Virgin's womb:
Veiled in flesh the God-head see; Hail th'incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel.
Hail the heav'n-born Prince of Peace! Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings, Ris'n with healing in His wings.
Mild He lays His glory by, Born that man no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth.[v]
5. Making room for Christ as Lord is still the invitation: The crowded conditions at the Inn that night in Bethlehem meant that Mary gave birth to the Christ child in a stable. There was no room for Jesus. Christmas lyrics often point to the same crowded conditions of human hearts. We too must choose to make room for the Lordship of Christ,
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus!
There is room in my heart for Thee."[vi]
Ah, dearest Jesus, holy Child,
make Thee a bed, soft, undefiled
within my heart, that it may be
a quiet chamber kept for Thee."[vii]
6. When we make room for Jesus in our hearts, we worship Him as Lord and Savior: The angels told the shepherds to "Come adore on bended knee Christ the Lord, the newborn King."[viii] The beautiful carol, O Come, All Ye Faithful invites Jesus-followers of all generations to set aside what crowds our hearts and lives and come to worship Christ the infant King. Because of Christ Jesus, "a weary world rejoices."
This invitation comes to us from the heart of the Father who loves us. May we love Him in return.
O, come let us adore him.
O, come let us adore him.
O, come let us adore him.
Christ, the Lord."
Christ Jesus, thank you for coming. By your Spirit, may we join together to worship you at Christmas-tide and all year. Enable us to make room in our crowded hearts and to receive you as Lord and Savior!
[i] Aurelius Prudentius, Of the Father's Love Begotten, 4th century.
[ii] Emily E.S. Elliott, Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne, 1864.
[iii] Charles Wesley, Come Thou Long Expected Jesus, 1744
[iv] Cecil Frances Alexander, Once in Royal David's City, 1848.
[v] Charles Wesley, Hark! the Herald Angels Sing, 1739.
[vi]Emily E.S. Elliott, Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne, 1836-1897.
[vii] Martin Luther, From Heaven Above to Earth I Come, 1535.
[viii] Angels We Have Heard on High (a traditional French carol)
As a little girl, the Sunday school teacher gave me a verse to recite for the Christmas program. I reportedly told her, "I'd like to sing a song." And so, it began. My relationship with music, and with the lyrics of that music, has shaped me to this day.
God gave me a big voice. I was the little girl who sang louder and sounded more mature than a listener might expect from my little body. Singing became the center of my identity and anchored my sense of value in my world. I was a vocal performance major in college, loved the stage, and later taught others to sing for 25 years.
So, in my lifetime, I have memorized countless songs.
I surrendered my heart and life to Jesus as Lord when I was twenty-two years old. I believe that before that time, the lyrics of the music I sang was the evangelist that continually invited me to come. My theology, that is, who I believe God to be—God the Father, God the Son and Savior, and God the Holy Spirit—was formed first through the lyrics of the music I sang.
Particularly at Christmastime, the lyrics that I memorized decades ago work within me again and create passion and desire to love and adore the Christ who came. The Incarnation of Jesus changes everything for everyone!
Because the liturgical calendar celebrates Christmas-tide until January 5, in my next Ruminations I'll talk about some of the precious truths I've learned from our beloved Christmas carols. Until then, may you make room in your hearts for the Christ who came. Because here's another Christmas gift to unwrap: the Christ who came continues to come! Emmanuel--God is with us!