Pristine Lives

Today I had an unexpected encounter. Under my prayer bench I found a yellow toy dump truck. I don’t remember how it got down here, but there it was, crusted with leaves and fir needles.

And then, without warning, I thought of my tiny unborn grandson who I never got a chance to meet. I saw him down here with me playing with that yellow truck. I wondered if he would have been a cuddler. Would he climb on my lap and sit for a few moments before going back to his excavation? How strange to grieve over a life that never was. Caught me off guard.

I know that “why” is a foolish question. This world is a dangerous place, especially to our most vulnerable, even in what should be the safety of a mother’s womb. As I frequently say, “this ain’t heaven.” I suppose grief is the most appropriate response to a dangerous world–Jesus wept over Jerusalem and outside a tomb. Grief, I suppose, is a fitting acknowledgment of the world east of Eden.

At the same time, we would not know what the garden is like if we didn’t have this world as a contrast. There is enough love and beauty in this world to assure us there is a heaven; and enough grief to remind us it’s not here. We recognize the wrongness of this world because we have, deep down in our soul, the picture of a garden where death has no victory and life springs eternal. I wonder how many unlived lives will be living there? Will heaven contain only those that opened the womb, or will we be surrounded with pristine lives never touched by the ravages of sin and never robbed of life before it began?



A Letter from Abba

Sometimes when I read the Bible, the words seem personal, meant specifically for me. I imagine I have received a letter. Here is one such letter I received some time ago from my Father in heaven:


Dear Dan,

I remember you with joy. And I know this for sure: I have begun a good work in you and will perfect it until the day of the coming Messiah. It is natural for me to feel this way about you because I have you in my heart … You are a partaker of grace with me. I long for you with affection, and this I desire: that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Messiah having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through him to the glory and praise of Me.

Love, Abba

Philippians 1:3-10

Like a Miracle

I saw, this morning, something like a miracle.

I sat on the couch in front of our east-facing window. The Sun was shining in its morning warmth. I noticed, floating in the sunlit air in front of me, a single strand of a web. It was only visible when it turned and caught the sunlight in just the right way. It glistened … a thread glowing with the light of the sun. There were moments when it hung motionless, other moments it lifted and swayed. Eventually no part of the strand caught the sun, but only a single point like a star, a single point of light suspended. As I considered it, I realized that it was still part of the longer, magnificent strand, which only moments ago the sun had illuminated like a fiery thread. Moments later, even the spark vanished. But I knew the thread was still there, suspended in the invisible. Waiting to be ignited by the sun.

It seems to me that the Spirit of God is like that. How many invisible strands float in the air around us? Do I assume that because I do not see them in the brilliance of the sunlight, they are not there? I fear that I do. But then, as I go about my business, I am reminded . I feel the touch of the invisible like walking through the strand of a web that I did not know was there until it touched me.

Chainsaw Rhapsody

In the distance, I hear the wine of chainsaws. Trees are being cut down–felled–land cleared. I sit among the tall Douglas firs that are part of our little forest. They stand, reaching for the clouds while others of their kind fall to Earth.

clearing desolation destruction fallen tree

I grieve, the relentless stripping of the land–the whine of the saws. They work, tearing into bark and hardwood until the grain snaps and the majestic weight draws the tree to earth. I hear the rhythmic blaring of the truck backing into position preparing to haul away the corpse of decades, perhaps centuries.

My heart hurts. The sound is relentless. It  feels as though it draws nearer to me and the forest in which I pray. I wish the trees that have been lost in the few minutes I have been sitting here could somehow be restored, to be stood up again reaching to the sky. But I know they lie amid shattered branches.

I think of the novel by Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow. In the final chapter Jayber and Maddie grieve over the loss of a grove of old trees. That final chapter takes on deeper meaning today.

The air grows silent. The fierce roaring of the saws cease. Perhaps only two, perhaps three trees needed to come down. Maybe they were diseased and dangerous. Perhaps these were sacrificed so that the younger trees could grow and flourish, so that other trees could drink the Sun and dig deep into the Earth. But then the saws start again. They whine and growl. And I know they will not stop until the ground lies strewn with wreckage to be hauled away, and then the equipment will come and tear the stumps from the ground, the last evidence of a community of living trees torn from the Earth. And when at last the plot of land lies empty it will be ready to receive whatever comes next.

Steps Toward Joy

I spent my morning devotional time in Matthew’s gospel. Chapters 8 and 9. I ponder the work of the master as he gives movement to a paralytic, sight to the blind, speech to someone who could not speak and even life to one who had died. Also, in that list of miracles is a woman whose life was poured out– the life is in the blood– for 12 years.

I realize how easy it is to regard these stories as little more than that, perhaps even legend. Yet, as a follower of Jesus, these are more than stories. They are not fiction, but recollections of observers. Moreover, they represent events that, because they are true, shed light on the nature of our world.

It is at this point that I remember Wendell Berry’s words in Jayber Crow. I stopped, just now, and reviewed that section – – I have it stored among my quotations. I wanted to revisit the imagery that came in the writing. He spoke of the roof being blown off the house so you could see the night sky. He also spoke of being like a bird trapped in a house trying to get out through a window pane and then later, actually finding an opening. Perhaps, that is what it’s like when we finally make peace with the idea that healings and resurrections are part of the world and not just myths and legends. If such things happen, then the world is not an enclosure without an opening; not a box with the lid tightly shut, but a place of waiting; a place of promise and hope. To see the world in that way ought to make us optimists, patient and purposeful. Perhaps, having the roof blown off is the key to Joy.

Spirit Breezes

Along the lines of being thankful, I just received a private message from a friend in Dallas (Oregon). He said that his daughter, Alice, is excited about vacation bible school today. Something blessed my heart as I thought about that little girl being excited. It brought tears to my eyes!

You know, it’s strange how sometimes things touch my emotions. I’ve come to wonder if, when that happens, it is a sign that the holy Spirit is moving in me. These spontaneous moments that manifest by a sudden feeling of tearfulness, have come to mean to me that the Spirit is near and at work in my heart. Today was such a day. But it happens at other times as well. Sometimes I feel it during a song; in a gathering of friends; from a thought or memory. In whatever time or place, when I feel a touch of emotion — like a breeze on my cheek – – my heart says that His Spirit is near.

Thanksgiving for the Little Things

The Abbey – (our house)

There is a section of the morning prayer that invites me to consider the moments when I was moving away from Father’s Love. It seems to me, that when I become careless about noticing the special qualities of others, especially those closest to me, I am moving away from God’s love. The scripture teaches that I should love others as God has loved me.

Once again, that compels me to notice the small things that comprise those who are part of my life. When I fail to do that, or when I grow careless about it, then I am not walking in God’s love. The apostle reminds us that God is love, which means that he looks at us with tenderness. I am reminded of the passage in Isaiah 43:25. It says that God casts our transgressions far from us and that he chooses not to remember our sins. My observation is that when He deliberately chooses to forget our transgressions the implication is that he has not chosen to forget our blessings and graces. It is apparent that he willingly remembers those things. This is Love, that we pay attention to those gifts and graces in others.

_____

The difficult part of the examen is “resolution,” to set a goal and fulfill it. Today, the goal that I should put before me is to begin to notice small things in others; pay attention and respond to them with tenderness and fondness. This would be a wonderful habit to cultivate. The challenge for me is that new habits are incredibly difficult. Old habits, as they say, die hard. For me they refuse to die at all, it seems.

Drawing Nearer/Joy

Dandelion Cottage (my office)

There has been a season of writing in my journal– pencil to page; mind to hand. I notice, however, that I swing back and forth between digital and tactile.

I am somewhat reluctant to return to dictating in this space. On the other hand, I feel the need for a change. I have had a sense of malaise lately. I wonder if it has to do with our recent bout with COVID, but it could be the usual cycle –“the law of undulation” that CS Lewis talks about in the Screwtape Letters.  I have become aware of the familiar sense of distance from the Lord.

It happens.

I want to return to a more vibrant prayer life. Part of this transition back is my return to the examen prayer of St. Ignatius. I had gotten out of the habit. As I return to it this morning I remember that speaking my thoughts had been a part of that practice. Therefore, here I am.

As I reached the place of gratitude in the prayer, I found myself being thankful for living where we live. I have fond thoughts of our home on 78th — how familiar I was with every square foot of that 50 by 100 ft. lot and the modest castle that was built there. The memories were fond, yes, but I would not return because I am thankful for being where I am with the country surrounding me and the animals – – the dogs, ducks, horses, and even the chickens. I am thankful for these things.

Along with a sense of distance that I have felt from the Lord, there has been a recurrent thought about the second in the list of the fruits of the spirit: Joy. “The fruit of the spirit is love, Joy…” Moreover, it is occurred to me that Joy is a significant part of our inheritance. Jesus said that he wanted our joy, his Joy, to fill us up. So, what should that look like? It is a question that has returned to me time and again. There are words that, it seems to me, ought to be packed together with the idea of joy. Happiness is one; laughter seems like it ought to be included. Fun. Play. Satisfaction. Thankfulness and peace. Wait a moment… That’s the third fruit of the spirit: peace. I ponder that. Love joy and peace are a triad. The qualities that follow are no less important, but perhaps these first three–love, joy, peace–are foundational.

I take a deep breath. I feel a welcome sense of focus this morning. Perhaps, the sense of distance and disconnectedness has invited a contrast.

As I continue to pray, I meet the part of the prayer called resolution. This is the one I have a hard time with. To resolve to do something is not difficult. I can think of something I ought to do. The challenge is that I often don’t do it. That’s not much of a resolution, is it?

Generations

As I pray through family members this morning, I realize how the normal pulling away of children from parents is happening. It’s not a bad thing, it’s the way it works. Children grow with families of their own. Their families grow and grandparents become part of their legacy, their history, and their memory, even while they live.

I paused for a moment and considered my father dying alone at Woodland Park Hospital. How much did he know while he was so debilitated by his disease? I wonder if he was aware of how important he was to his children? He could not know how much of him would remain, mementos of his contribution to our lives.

I look around my office. Above the door is his name carved in wood that used to be above his office door. On the shelf a toy truck my sister picked up and left for me — Allied Van lines. She bought decals and affixed his name on the trailer: Mayhew Transfer and Storage. There is a fedora on my shelf that she picked up while on a trip to the Oregon coast. My dad used to wear a hat just like it. There is a bottle of Old spice on the shelf. A bolo with the initial ‘M’ on it that he used to wear. His name on an aluminum top-piece that used to sit on our mailbox. Elsewhere, there are old pairs of his glasses, cancelled checks that he made out with his signature on them, a high school yearbook, a ledger … The accumulation of these items was not intentional. They are just here. They are reminders of what I hope he knew, that he was loved, appreciated, and important.

Flaws

We went to see the movie named The Jesus Revolution. I liked it. Part of my positive response was because it was about the renewal that brought Jody and I into the journey. We remember the vibe of those days. We look back with fondness.

Nevertheless, there were things about the movie that provoked thought and sadness. It brought back good memories of a spiritual energy that emerged in a time that was dark and cynical, but it also reminded me of the realities of human nature.

The characters were flawed. If you know the rest of the story, you know that they did not all end well. It’s hard to accept that. Still, that is the reality of life in this dying world. People are flawed. They may succeed for a time, but stumble. Sometimes they never regain their footing.

car accident, car crash, shocked

The Bible is full of such characters. There are few paragons of virtue in the pages of scripture. In the end, the real hero is Jesus. He took on all of the flaws, the besetting sins of all the characters that ever lived. If there was punishment to be given to those who failed he was there to receive it. That’s a hard message. We want perfect Christians. We want heroes of the faith. We would rather not look upon their weakness because, I suppose, it’s a bit like looking in a mirror. This should be a comfort. To know that even imperfect people can be of use to God should encourage us. But encouragement sometimes cannot rise above disappointment.