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Posts tagged ‘Falcon Lake’

Unseen Presence

One of the blessings of my life is a small music group I’m part of. Marilyn, Eldon and I  have a number of humble  “gigs” – singing at a senior’s home nearby every few weeks, and singing for and with our house church. Despite the hectic pace of the fall, getting together to practice invariably ends up being the best part of my day. Singing the words of scripture or other prayerful lyrics has a way of slowing me down, touching the heart and restoring balance.

guitar-hands2In recent weeks we’ve been preparing a few songs for our annual fall retreat this past weekend out at Falcon Lake. Like trying on new clothes, new songs are fun to check out though perhaps a bit ill fitting at first. We’d practiced a few times and the songs still didn’t feel finished, so last week we met on Wednesday evening to practice one more time.

As always, we tuned up our guitars, got lyrics and music stands ready and began to go over the songs. It was business as usual, but something happened that evening which caught our attention. It was as though the songs truly came together and the lyrics came alive. We had all come together from busy schedules and promised to “only” practice for an hour, but time seemed to melt away as we got caught in the beauty of the songs. “Should we go over them one more time?” one of us asked and we all quickly agreed.

Reflecting on it during the practice, it struck me that there was a third, unseen presence in the room. Besides the music and the three of us, there was definitely a sense that God was with us in my humble living room. The music was deeply relaxing, but more than that, it felt like we were in a sacred place. I noticed that our comments to each other became kinder and laughter came quickly.

Make my mind free from fears, You know I can’t do it on my own.

Ancient Celts and later Christians had a term to describe times and places like this: thin places. Thin places happen when the distance between heaven and earth collapses and we are able to catch glimpses of the divine. They help us become our essential selves. Heaven and earth, a Celtic saying goes, are only three feet apart, but in thin places that distance is even shorter.

The music stayed with me through the rest of the week, both during the day as I worked with my students, and at night if I woke up and couldn’t sleep. Song

Our house church out at Falcon Lake this past weekend

Our house church out at Falcon Lake this past weekend

lyrics came back to steady my spirit and quell the fears that can take over so quickly. One that stayed with me the most was a line from a song a friend had written years earlier, of God saying to us, “Hush now, peace now, in this moment know now, you belong to Me.” And another lyric by singer Josh Garrels has become my prayer for the new school year, “Make my mind free from fears, You know I can’t do it on my own.”

I wish I had some audio to share with you on the blog. Maybe that’ll happen someday, but for now, I’m glad the songs gave me an experience of God last week, a thin place to remember that I’m not alone in the universe, and that something Greater than me is holding us all steady.

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Revised Reality

It was Wednesday morning when the idea first came to me. As usual, I had been scouting the week’s events for blog topics. It love having this muse as it focuses my thoughts on what gives me hope. I’ve noticed after months of doing this that more and more topics come to me, and that alone seems hopeful.

It was Tuesday and I was at the first Monarch Teacher’s Network meeting of the year,  starting to plan next summer’s workshop. The teachers on the committee received the good news that we were recipients of a grant for more flowers for our school gardens. After the meeting, I happily loaded two trays of prairie plants into the back seat of my car – Joe Pye, brown-eyed susans, milkweed, pearly everlasting.  Coming back to the car after stopping off for an errand, I discovered this lovely, subtle aroma of plants pervading my car. I wouldn’t have time until the next day to unload them, so the next morning, with the plants still in the car, I headed off to work. They still smelled beautiful.

Ah ha! I thought. A blog topic. Isn’t faith a lot like this? The effects of faith are not loud and splashy, but more of a subtle thing in one’s life. Noticing the life of the Spirit takes an awareness and openness, like noticing a beautiful tree or a smile from a friend that shifts a day towards hope. Many times my mind is scrambling around with a crazy to-do list or other such worries and I miss a lot of what God is saying.

All day I had fun playing with this idea of the subtle aroma, and I looked forward to heading back to the car after work, ready to inhale the lovely smell in the car again before I took the plants out.

When I opened the door, however, I was a bit startled to find that a smell that was no longer lovely. Maybe it had been too hot in the car all day, but my face turned a bit sour as I noticed a pungent aroma. Not only that, but now there were several flies buzzing around my head, not to mention a wasp that perched on my cheek. Not exactly the sweet aroma of the Spirit that I’d been musing on all day!

It was like that sour smell became enacted in my evening. First there was a frantic feel to getting supper ready, and then a feeling of depression set in as the music group practiced. Normally I enjoy practicing, but an oppressive feeling of all I had to do pressed on me. The last straw came at 3 am when I woke up with a headache and my mind was just spinning. Like a fast moving video stream from a movie, anxious thoughts rushed through me non-stop. I tried to breathe deeply to steady the swirl, but it didn’t seem to be working!

It occurred to me that “ideas” just don’t really cut it at 3 am when racing thoughts dominate the spirit, threatening to take over. Nighttime is like that. Mark Twain once said that we are never quite sane in the night. There are no distractions and the anxieties that we often block out during the day come to the forefront. The blog topic I’d mused on during the day seemed like an idea, not a real experience of God. Where was God now? I prayed but my prayers felt like the “hitting the ceiling” variety. Eventually I fell asleep.

God heard my prayers despite the feeling I’d failed at conveying them, for in the morning, a chapter in a book by Walter Bruggemann was infinitely helpful. Our community had been asked to read it in

At Falcon Lake this weekend

preparation for our annual retreat at Falcon Lake (which we just got back from). (You can read it online here.)

Bruggemann writes about our temptation to become “secular autonomous people”, paying lip service in which God is an ornament but not a real factor in life. I thought about my “blog idea”, wondering how many times I think poetic thoughts about God but then get caught up in the cares of this world in the blink of an eye. The temptation seemed to apply to me – in getting ensnared by the cares of the week, I became secular, forgetting my absolute dependence on God. Like the plants in the back seat of my car, something was smelling a bit sour. Or to quote Shakespeare, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”!

Bruggemann writes about Psalm 73. The Psalmist is also tempted by worldly thinking, being taken over by cynicism, envy and self-indulgence…until he goes into the sanctuary of God (vs. 17). “In that holy mystery, saturated with Torah memory, the psalmist receives a second, revised version of reality.” As I read the passage and the chapter by Bruggemann, I felt that I was receiving a revised version of reality as well. I felt forgiveness and peace return to my tired heart as I prayed with the Psalmist,

 Whom have I in heaven but You?

There is nothing I desire other than you.

My flesh and my heart may fail,

But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Psalm 73:25-26

I guess we all get our desires confused. Often I think my top desire is to get that to-do list in check. But the psalmist reminded me that morning that it is good to be near God. The aroma in the car was actually a wonderful metaphor, it was just that I forgot to do what the metaphor was all about – take whiffs of the more subtle things. Amid the food prep, I forgot to be grateful for Lyle and Joel. Amid my to-do list which made the music practice feel burdensome, I forgot to take a breath and remember that everything always gets done in good time as we entrust them to God. And as I tossed in bed at 3 am, I forgot there is a deeper current beneath the swirling emotions.

I may have forgotten, but thankfully God did not forget me. I remembered that I am God’s child. I am not protected from the struggles of life, but I can always enter God’s sanctuary, which is not a where but a when – whenever I remember whose kid I am.

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