The journey through Ruth continues – check out the latest installment at the Emerging Scholars Blog – http://blog.emergingscholars.org/2015/03/ruth-an-unexpected-story/.
Monthly Archives: March 2015
Over the coming weeks a series of devotions on Ruth that I wrote for the Emerging Scholars Network’s online devotion, Scholar’s Compass will be posted. If you’re interested in seeing them, here’s the link to the first one Ruth: Stopped Along the Way. While you’re there, check out the other devotions and resources. Enjoy!
Yesterday I saw the first bulb blooming in the front garden – an Early Snow Glory. It appears delicate, but it has fought through the cold and snow of the winter to get here. What a beautiful sight after the weeks of snow and cold of February and early March. Yes, spring is coming and with it the promise of possibilities.
These small blue flowers are also another reminder of my mother who planted the bulbs years ago and always looked forward to their appearing each year. A bittersweet remembrance of the seeds of love and faith that both my parents planted in their children and with everyone they met.
However, my parents aren’t the only ones who planted seeds in my life. Many people in the past and present, those I’ve known, but many I haven’t, who have planted seeds that continue to sprout. There’s a beautiful garden to view and tend if only I have eyes to do so.
But it’s not only about looking at the garden that has already been planted. Where am I sowing seed? On a literal level, I have a packet of Canterbury Bell seeds sitting in my in-box. When I think of having to plant them in small containers so they can sprout before they go into the ground I wonder if it’s worth the effort and laziness takes over. Then, what if the flowers become trampled or waterlogged? What if they don’t grow? So I’m afraid of putting anything in the ground. However, storing them is also a problem. Last year I threw away a box of flower bulbs that had started to mold and disintegrate when I did not plant them soon enough. So much potential, gone.
It takes faith to plant bulbs: faith that this effort will result in a flower months from now, faith that the earth and the rain will provide the conditions for growth. It’s similar with other seeds that we plant. When I personally think of sharing ideas, compliments, concern, even an invitation to dinner, I’m not sure what will happen. How will the other person react? However, if I never step out these potential interactions, seeds if you will, can decay. So I’m convinced that we need to let go and share our love for friends and family, ideas for changing our corner of the world, our skills for helping others. Though it may be a challenge for some of us, it is worth it to find the soil that will nourish these seeds and see what grows.
As I watch each bulb blossom this summer, I will continue to be reminded of my mother and all that she planted. But I will also be reminded to plant my own seeds. Some will be actual flower bulbs, but others will be through relationships, ministry, and writing.
After a winter of being inside, it is time to step out. What’s the worst that can happen when we plant these seeds in the world? I predict that a garden of riotous color will emerge. Let’s get planting.
Setting up the kitchen has been one the most telling tasks so far of the work that will go into weaving together several lives, past and present, into a home.
Of course, my parents and I had a working kitchen over the past decade. Cupboards were filled with dishes and the pantry with food. In fact, we had two sets of dishes, one of 16 settings so we could host large groups. But once my mother passed and this space was to be my home in a new way, it was time to actively create a new space. Six boxes from an apartment sat in the garage, holding items from an earlier kitchen and dreams of living on my own. Items I hadn’t seen for over a decade. Each drawer in the kitchen contained memories of cooking with my mother. Now I had to merge the two. So, I invited a friend over to help me decide.
Did I need eight pie plates? No.
Two waffle irons? No
Seven aprons? Well, maybe.
At first it took awhile as I commented on a jelly pottery jar (in the shape of a bunch of grapes) that a friend of my mom’s made over forty years ago. Or, as I decided which of four dish sets I would keep. But eventually we hit a rhythm and just worked through the boxes and cabinets. I felt an active letting go of the past, along with a hope for meals with friends and family in the coming weeks and months.
Through this process life continued. It wasn’t about trying to retain what had been lost. It was about keeping this space as a place of living relationships. I was thinking about inviting over students and friends so I could make use of these pots and pans – and even the pie plates. I wanted toshare the feast of living with those who visit.
In the work of melding these stories and spending time with a friend, it was also a type of prayer. Of recognizing ongoing life that is not ours grasp, but to celebrate.
Recently I encountered George Herbert’s poem Prayer (I) that lists a multitude of images for prayer – starting with “the church’s banquet”.
Prayer the church’s banquet, angel’s age,
God’s breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth
Engine against th’ Almighty, sinner’s tow’r,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six-days world transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
Exalted manna, gladness of the best,
Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,
Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood,
The land of spices; something understood.
-Prayer (I), George Herbert
As prayer itself is described as a banquet, manna, land of spices, I’m also seeing how a banquet and the enjoyment of a meal may be a form of prayer as friends gather around God’s daily bread.
Stepping into this reworked kitchen, I can only hope that my actions in it will be a prayer, a small part of the church’s banquet. That the cooking and baking here will celebrate the gracious gifts of the Father, that I will see Christ in the people served around the table, and that the Spirit of God, a spirit of Shalom, will invade the space.
Last weekend I had the privilege of hosting a group of former graduate students around the table and continuing this prayer. I used Pyrex bowls and steel measuring spoons that had prepared many meals before and new white and cobalt blue dishes that were seeing their first dinner party. A favorite recipe from an aunt and ones I found just last week. These kitchen items and the food they helped prepare and serve, provided the basis for a type of prayer – communication with God in the presence of friends as people reconnected and celebrated new life, new jobs, and voiced concerns.
It was a grace-filled image of what this home can become.
Several years ago I spent a day at the mall with a friend who was teaching me how to select the best fitting clothes. It was a long and draining day of trying on dozens of jeans and t-shirts to see what sizes and styles worked on me. By the end, though, I felt renewed. I hadn’t been aware the difference the proper size could make in how I looked and felt.
These past weeks and even months I’ve found myself in another ill-fitting dilemma. This time with stories instead of clothes. Just as I used to hurriedly buy clothes so I could finish this chore I disliked greatly, I’ve attempted to inhabit several ill-fitting stories because work needs to get done: organizing property care projects at church; fundraising for ministry; and serving as my mom’s estate executor. So, I’m barreling my way through them not really thinking through the larger implications of the processes I’m using and my attitude.
Because these tasks are unfamiliar, it’s easy to pick an off-the-rack program and try to make it work. It’s been done and tested, right? Once I get through these tasks then I can get on with my real work. But slowly, those ill-fitting stories become the way I work and I lose my own style and the idealized ‘real work’ fades away. Sometimes the stories fit, but many times they just are not right and I’m left with a process that is too tight and doesn’t look like me at all.
Teachers, ministers, counselors, and writers are in the story business – helping others to understand the story of their lives as they find meaning behind the moment to moment details. As I’ve been thinking about my role in this work as a campus minister, I realize that I am tempted to tell others their story, or the one I think they should be following. I want to take the same jacket and put it on everyone, forgetting how uncomfortable that has been for me.
Recently I finished reading Eugene Peterson’s, Under the Unpredictable Plant that explores the vocation of pastor – not as the manager of an organization but as the pray-er and poet of the congregation. One who is interceding, resting on God for all work and the one who is in the midst of point out the poetry in the life of the church. Peterson sees Jesus’ gospel worked out in the lives of the people – not something that they need to have clamped down on them in the form of church programming or commanded disciplines, but something into which they can live and through which the Spirit is already working.
Thinking about the work of Christian ministry in this way, I realized that I can continue to struggle to fit into the clothes that others hand me or become frustrated with the inability of individuals to live in the story I designed for them. Or, I can stop. Take time to pray and enter God’s dwelling place to be changed. As Peterson reminds us, “Prayer rescues us from a preoccupation with ourselves and pulls us into adoration of and pilgrimage to God.” This is a first step of living a story that fits, to stop looking at myself and focus on God.
With this focus, it’s then possible to stop taking on responsibilities of living someone else’s narrative or trying to squeeze them into mine. I can see how God is working already, he is in these lives. As Peterson changed the focus of his ministry he describes how he “wanted to see the Jesus story in each person in my congregation with as much local detail and raw experience as James Joyce did with the Ulysses story in the person of Leopold Bloom and his Dublin friends and neighbors.” What would it look like to do this? To see the stories that truly fit each person.
Working in campus ministry, there is a truth that I do share the same jacket with everyone – God’s story, the Good News. However, this story is not one-size fits all in that everyone will look and act the same on the outside. Instead, its one size allows each person in their unique, God-created image, to live out this story. As Paul pleads for the Colossians to “. . . put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (3:10), we too are invited to put on this new self, our new clothes, our new stories. As Christ fits himself in our lives, the individual stories become more evident. Gerard Manley Hopkins expresses this beautifully in the familiar poem As Kingfishers Catch Fire.
I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.
It’s this new self that needs to be put on – a self dependent on Jesus Christ. Selves that, though grounded in the same story, reveal a myriad of images and fit well.
As I look again at the tasks before me, I’m seeking to find better ways to get them done. It’s not about trying to fit into a new program or another person’s expectations, but listening to and being part of the living story of Christ that is unfolding in my life and within the communities in which I am part. It may take time to try different ways of working out these responsibilities. But if my focus is on God, I believe I will find a better fit in the end. Who knows, maybe I’ll even find a spark of joy in the work I’ve been dreading.