Jailbreak!

I look out my office window. Humphrey and two of the spice girls have, as it were, flown the coop. They’re prancing around under the bird feeder with flagrant disregard for the grave reality that they are AWOL.

Five of the hens in our flock I have named “the spice girls.” They are Pepper, Clove, Cinnamon, Ginger and All, named for their place on the color palette. Two of the five are inclined to make an occasional jailbreak, usually incited by Earhart, the aviatrix of the flock.

Today, I blame Humphrey for leading the insurrection. He is a stately, handsome, belligerent fellow, with a determined look, evidence of the deadly sin of pride. With regard to pride, a peacock has nothing on him. The other morning he sounded off at 3:15AM. I don’t know what came over him. When, in passing conversation, we mentioned it to our son-in-law (the “landlord” 😉) about it, he offered to slaughter the miscreant to preserve our rest. As bothersome as a 3:15AM alarm is, I don’t think I want to dispatch Humphrey to the great crock-pot in the sky just yet. He is, after all, a chicken, complete with limited intellectual capacity. I trust that his early morning reveille will not be a regular thing. For the most part he respects certain boundaries relative to the time of day. He’s only done the very early announcement once. The rest of the time he usually waits until after 5:00 which is our usual time to rise anyway.

I know if I go out there to try to bring them all to confinement again they will flap around, running for their lives. And I will weary myself trying to coax them back into line. I’ve done this numerous times and it occurs to me that stumbling about waving my arms probably puts me on the same level as they– leaping and lunging, flapping and stumbling– as I try to curtail their freedom, which they are inclined to guard jealously.

To complicate matters this morning, Mr. and Mrs. Puddles, our resident ducks, are also out for their morning walk.

I believe I will attempt to ignore the poultry and return to my morning prayer time. I am far too easily distracted…

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.

More Joy Thoughts

In prayer this morning, I was meditating on John 15:7 and 1st John 3:22 -23. It fell in with the thoughts I have been having about Joy. In these verses he declares that his legacy for us is the same joy that he himself lives in.

What a wonderful promise! That we will be given his Joy – – we are entitled to it. It is almost too wonderful to believe. Moreover, I have to wonder if we really know how to live in the kind of joy that Jesus is describing here. We are to have joy, he says. It is his desire that we have it. We are, in short, entitled to it. I think it is noteworthy that he hasn’t asked us to do anything except stay close to him and to remember the things that he has taught us and shown us how to do. This Joy he speaks of apparently has to do with living in him, through him, and with him. We aren’t to try to have joy, we are to live with those, “unforced rhythms of grace.” We are free. Freedom is the wellspring of joy. We are to say, as Brennan Manning imagines, “yes, Jesus, I believed in your love and tried to shape my life as a response to it.”

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.

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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?

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.

Words of Life. Words of Death

 Words plant seeds.

They are themselves seeds that, when rightly spoken, germinate life in the hearers. There is more than one way to conceive life. Seeds can nourish the body, but they themselves can propagate life. Similarly, words can nourish the heart and soul and propagate life. Words of encouragement or knowledge, even stories can nourish the reader or the hearer.

At the same time, careless or thoughtless words; degrading or insulting words, carry death. There is a plant that I saw growing alongside the road in Ethiopia. It looked fruitful, but I was told they were toxic–poisonous.

Words are seeds of the heart that can plant life or death.