Blackberry…

Yesterday was a real blackberry wrangler. The Himalayan variety is considered a noxious weed in Whatcom and Skagit Counties. And they are gnarly; grasping and scratching, and tearing out one’s hair. But after donning my hazmat suit, I kinda like those blackberry days… the gnarly things refuse to be ‘managed.’ Yesterday’s session turned out to be a little like church.

The blackberries spring up in seemingly devastated landscapes – clear cuts, vacant lots, abandoned farmhouses. In our case, they jumpstarted when we thinned the upper canopy; filling in where the undergrowth was traumatized by falling alders and cottonwood giants. In an uncanny way, they have allowed the elder- and salmonberry to flourish as well, and recreate habitat for small creatures. Preserving that habitat was part of our intent, but the blackberry invasion not anything like the method we had imagined.

As I climb and crouch among them, they seem almost desperate to grow, to reach the light. Their crowns are both hidden in the dark, and lurking in plain view. I used to be afraid of desperate people, afraid that something of the trauma that had ravaged their landscapes might rub off on me. But after half a century of trying to grow by cautious and thoughtful management, experiencing desperation myself with just a glimpse of the extent of trauma in our world; I am mostly impressed by their resilience, and in awe of their knowing to seek the light. I could cross-examine the foundations of what that means – to seek the light. But I know who spoke sunlight into being; and that seeking interface is enough to give me hope.

jfig  7/17

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the waiting light

The light o’er the ridge

stood

near still, waiting

to ascertain dawn

fully in place.

 

Suspended,

it cast down both slopes;

wanderers

on each

still finding their way.

 

Rivers and streams

pummeled their way

echo…echo…

echoing still.

The light did not abandon its care-filled watch.

 

Ponder the light:

all seems so clear, in the visibility.

Now that it is day. This day…

Did not the stream change its course?

Who would know?

 

But in the night, that other light

cast its beam on some

yet unknown, unseen

fragile beauty.

 

Fragile;

for it is difficult

to navigate the terrors of the night

or the cold. It is near impossible

e’en to wait.

 

Wait in the darkness…are you mad?

Hold, my breath. Hold…and wait

for a prayer to breathe itself.

 

There is beauty hiding there, holding also its breath;

I am certain of it.

Just as I am certain we would all come to harm

to wander aimless, unguarded in the darkness.

Or racing unhinged… worse still.

 

Unhinge my fear…

and bring the light.

                                                                                                                                                                                                jfig/2/2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                            

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prayers in the Margins; a reflection

In her book, An Altar in the World,(1) Barbara Brown Taylor begins with a poem.

“The tender flesh itself

will be found one day

–quite surprisingly—

to be capable of receiving,

and, yes, full

capable of embracing

the searing energies of God.

Go figure. Fear not.”

Dear God, today, to whatever extent my tender, broken flesh is capable of receiving your energies, may I extend them toward the reconciliation of man and Maker; that reconciliation which invites mystery: the mystery of Gentile as neither inferior nor superior, but as ‘same’.

Mystery, indeed…

Sear, they do, these mysteries; lining the walls with question in the cathedral of one’s brain. Sear, not seethe, I implore thee. For I surmise that seething, unremitted, comes to a common, bitter end… Surely, I am not worthy to seethe, in this body of broken flesh.

May our skins look neither anemic, nor aged, alongside one another, but rather illuminated by fiery contrast, hands folded against one another. And I will love my color…and hers. I wonder if our pain is not that we sometimes hate our hue; Oppression’s ‘ other’ face.

May the tendrils of incense, one pale and one burnished prayer; entwine as they climb, reaching toward your wisdom.

May brother’s glaring weakness be bridged by my strength, and my blind spot navigated by his story’s light.

May your mercy weld the two together into faith weightier than our differences. Weighty, wise, whole in wisdom. For we ARE weak, and spoiled of flesh, without both the wisdom, and the mercy…

And , then:

“Therefore, the flesh

is not to be excluded

from the wisdom and the power

that now and ever animates

all things. His life-giving

agency is made perfect,

we are told, in weakness–

made perfect in the flesh.”

These lines taken from Scott Cairns (2) adaptation of Capable Flesh by St. Irenaeus

I am convinced that I have not the answer, and neither do you. We must go searching the answer, together. For the prisons of color and gender are not the only oppressions we bear; nor poverty, nor pain. The oppression we bear, is ‘human’; and unless we bear this cross  together, this same one borne by Christ, it will be but a ‘beating stick.’

And from the middle of the poem:

“For even at its beginning

the humble clay received

God’s art, whereby

one part became the eye,

another the ear, and yet

another this impetuous hand.”

 

And so, ‘life-giving agency’ becomes our quest. Are any of us capable, then, without first being given breath? And can we deny the life that presents right in front of us, the breathing broken… and not wonder also at its source.

jfig/11-15-2016

 

1) Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World (New York: Harper Collins, 2009)

2)Scott Cairn, Love’s Immensity: Mystics on the Endless Life (Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2007)

 

Blue-light Special

Little Miss Sweetness and I walk to the bus in the dark these late fall mornings. (She has never been afraid of the dark, adventuring out-of-doors at all hours when she was truly little – another story, for another time). But now cocooned by her backpack and raincoat, she would like to see that big leaf maple leavings are not flying insects, that the rain debris is not a snake underfoot. She is suspicious of little piles of decaying pinecones. She does not want to step on slugs…period. In my hand is a metallic blue flashlight. She’d like it to cast its beam about 24 inches in front of her two feet. Even though other wonders lie ahead, that in the daylight she impatiently loooongs to see, like deer and her friend Florie and the neighbor dog; in the dark of night, she is content to focus on the next step. This may seem like a subtle difference, but to one who watches her every day, it is a dramatic change in how she approaches these contrasting moments of life.

Afraid of the dark???? Me? Naaah. How frustrated we grow, with God shining his narrow beam of light on what stands right in front of us, in the way of growth, or healing, or further relationship with him. We are offended at the obstacles (I think I swore 4 times on the way down this morning.) We’d like the benefit of daylight shining on the distant FUTURE, so we know what to expect, how to guard our hearts, how to prepare.  We clutch our clumsy baggage, soggy raincoats, and attempt to muscle through the ‘discomfort’ toward a better dawn. But in fact, there are slippery slopes, downed power lines, things that would harm us if we don’t navigate carefully. God is patiently, presently, effecting His preparation in these moments. He wants us to know what is in the way of our knowing Him. He is subtly adjusting attitude, unravelling resentment, clarifying our knowledge of who He is; so we can learn how to do what He does.

Trudging back the lane after meeting the bus; the dark lingered, the rain continued. The quiet felt beautiful,  cocooned in the safety of in his Presence

Tuesday mornings…psalm of hope

The Psalms have become a refuge in the milieu of mounting prayer needs and a sense of woe. I am reminded that it is not our circumstances that will sustain joy, as circumstances change. Nor can we manipulate them entirely to our satisfaction. I’m not suggesting one just give up; but hope, sustaining, abiding hope, needs to come from a  place stronger and deeper than that. The one who can manipulate our circumstances is God…and He has done so.

Psalm 32:

“Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.

When I kept silent my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’ – and you forgave the guilt of my sin.

Therefore let everyone who is Godly pray to you while you may be found; surely when the mighty waters rise, they will not reach him. You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you. Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you.

Many are the woes of the wicked, but the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the man who trusts in him.

Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart!” (1)

At first draft, I made a glaring typo: I will confess my transgression… singular, rather than plural. Often, I try to continue through my day, throwing off( read ignoring) my missteps and failures, only to be weighted deeper by their depressing company. Having trusted God for a long time, it is not so often glaring, overt sins that shape my struggle, nor even my tongue in public. It is subtle mutterings, attitudes of my heart, and distorted justifications of my mind. These things get in the way of any real kingdom work, effective prayers. As I finish reading this psalm, it makes me want to sing….Jesus is the answer for my trouble, my internal behavioral problems. Hallelujah! There is a Savior. He is so much better company, than my own broken thoughts. Praise his Holy name.

Jesus, today we beg your forgiveness, knowing that you welcome our sorry confession, our company. Will you brighten my countenance by your company, that I might offer YOUR hope to the world. Amen.

Psalm 32 Zondervan Study Bible NIV. Grand Rapids 1984

Tuesday mornings…extreme measures

Psalm 31:6  I hate those who cling to worthless idols; as for me, I trust in the LORD. (1)
I hate those who cling to worthless idols… This phrase caught my attention in my reading today. Hate is rather a strong word for me, but I felt deep inside the frustration of this sentiment: what a waste. Yet I sometimes look up from this ironman swim in the ocean called life, only to find myself clinging to …a worthless idol, piece of Styrofoam, or waterlogged remnant of another person’s dream, only to find that it does not float.
But I am still far out at sea… Life lately seems like perpetual hurricane season. So much so, that my usual framework of ‘trust in the Lord’ seems inadequate. When a friend encounters struggle after struggle after 5 yr struggle,  that story is repeated in the trauma experienced by a stranger, and yet again with an acquaintance with whom I chance to explore deeper; my human scale of trust starts looking for percentages. My just saying, “God is able,” even though it is grounded in firm belief that He is all-powerful, all-knowing, and is able to heal; seems insufficient when one does not see healing, or progress, or growth…now. What’s wrong with my lifeboat?????
My husband and I have worked more overtime than usual the last couple years, to realign some dysfunctional patterns in our communication. By the grace of God; and with the help of some detailed teaching and the company of committed friends, we were able to make some positive changes. One pivotal evening, I had the stunning realization that all the indicators that I had been using to assess how we were doing 25 years into the journey, were worthless idols. When I reassessed using scriptural paradigms, I was overcome by the grace and goodness of God in both who my husband is, and how God had, and continues to specifically and strategically position us in each other’s lives. Obviously, that could be a much longer story, but the point is that my frame of reference was all messed up, and by clinging to it, I was making myself miserable and depressed: one soggy, sinking piece of drift.
Care help 1)  Realign assessment of the situation to match scripture. The psalms have been richly helpful in this, because they don’t dismiss honest emotion, rather step through them to the safety of God’s love and care. Whether the emotion is fear, or discouragement , or frustration, or grief, God is able to come alongside and acknowledge this emotion with us.
Deflated, or sinking trust, has also caused me to reassess how I pray for others who are in trouble. As one with absolutely no mechanical skill whatsoever, I still would like to fix things. Surely I could offer some wise words of comfort? EXTREME COMFORT, is provided by God, sometimes through us. He is the one who knows deeply and intimately the needs of another’s heart, mind, soul. I have come to rely upon these simple phrases, taken from a prayer litany written for those in need of healing:
” The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy: I(Jesus) have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10. ALMIGHTY GOD, we know that this life to the full is your plan for _______. Your kingdom come, your will be done.LET NOT ONE of your plans for ______ fall to the ground unfulfilled.
Care help 2) Praying for God’s plans, ALL OF THEM; rather than my temporary fix, is powerfully more reassuring for the longterm well-being of a friend or loved one. With sustaining power behind it!
Father in heaven, we offer praise to your Holy Name. Will you establish heaven on earth in the life of our friends and family today; for those in need of extreme comfort and healing, extreme rescue form the thievery and destruction of the enemy. Let not one of your plans or purposes fall to the ground unfulfilled or forgotten. Your kingdom come!
“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your heart by faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3: 14-21 NIV (2)
Amen
jlf/2015
(1) “Psalms 31:6 (New International Version).” Blue Letter Bible. Sowing Circle. Web. 14 Jun, 2015. <http://www.blueletterbible.org/Bible.cfm?b=Psa&c=31&p=0&rl=0&t=NIV&gt;.
(2) “Ephesians 3: 14-21.” New International Version, Holy Bible. Zondervan Bible Publishers. Grand Rapids 1983

Tuesday mornings…prayers for the journey

Beach Combings …

The Sea flings up her dross

waiting for traveler

“Find me…” this beauty whispers,

lifted out of hiding by the foaming of the waves.

I run to you, knowing that your love will see me through this gathering storm

Cling to grace, knowing it will part the waves that push my craft off shore.

Bend -u- double winds hush to calm

By turn, God-breathed light warms, then fire bakes:

eel grass to paper; tree to kindling…all blown away

lest we be convinced to worship this sun.

“Brace yourself,” the gale answers my Job question…

Brace yourself in heaven’s resounding “I am.”

Smooth warm pebble turns in my hand,

Round and round to feed my palm the reminder

That tomorrow will bring a new dawn

I run to you, knowing that your love will see me through this gathering storm

Cling to grace, knowing it will part the waves that push my craft off shore.

jlf 6/15

A few weeks ago, as anxious thoughts mounted, I retreated to the beach to find God’s comfort in the care of loved ones. Three of my four children were off, one to canoe the wild rivers of northern Minnesota, one to the jungles of LA, and the third moving toward a scheduled class trip to Israel. In spite of God’s persistent faithfulness, I feel better when I can see my hatchlings…

The offerings of the beach reminded me, that the wind and waves of life’s storms, under God’s precise and careful restraint, reveal the hidden beauty of a thing. So often, we long for the safety and well-being of a loved one. God takes it one solid step further into the well-being of a soul.

God speaks , in Job 39, of how the young of the deer, “thrive and grow strong in the wilds,” and the freedom of the wild donkey though his home is in the wasteland. God understands, more KNOWS, the subtleties of what each of us encounters. He knows what obstacles we will encounter, and what shape those obstacles will give to our character. He knows where the pitfalls lie that too readily fit the shape of each foot.

Me…I’ve been sizing my children’s shoes too small, for too long, for years. Enough such that my tallest daughter, has the smallest feet. So much for my human understanding, of what is required to shape a life that mirrors God.

“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.” These words from Jeremiah 29: 11 to the Israelites, follow God’s instructions to them about how to live IN the place of difficulty and challenge, applied in captivity. They are followed by this assurance, “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

Lord God, You who see and understand all, we rejoice in the power of your voice to unleash or quiet the storm. We rejoice in your knowing the dust of which we are made, such that you can reorder the grains of sand to reveal YOUR beauty, hidden in us. Thank you for the honor of bearing your image.

Protect us from the confusion of trying to create any other image to wear. Free us from the pursuit of false beauty that would shackle us to this age, rather than free us into eternity with you.

For those under our care or instruction, would you give us again, the assurance that you know exactly what you are doing? Instruct us in our role so that we can participate in the purity of your plan. We pray in Jesus’ name.