What you need to do today

nadim-merrikh-307897When I was young, more than anything else, I wanted to be a broadway dancer. I wanted dance lessons, but my parents gave me accordion lessons. Not quite the same skill set. I dreamed of dancing in the ensemble of a broadway show. I wasn’t interested in the lead, I loved the idea of teamwork and precision the line required. In theater, the production team sometimes issue a “cattle call,”  an open invitation for anyone who wants to audition to show up and give it their best shot.

Jesus issued a cattle call in Mark 8. It was an invitation to the whole crowd, not just his disciples. “Anybody want to come after me? Anyone?” All are invited to try out. Not just the spiritual (the disciples), but the crowd (those after Jesus’ works and wonders.) Doesn’t matter where you start on your journey of coming after Jesus. It is open to all, the protocol is the same:  Deny self, take up cross and follow. All can try out, but it is a tough regimen if you are going to make the line.

Be encouraged, Jesus calls you. You can start today, all over again, every morning his mercies are new. 

First comes denying self. Do I want Jesus more than anything else. If I am to deny myself, I must first identify what my self is after (other than Jesus.) To go after him, my agendas, my ambitions are not annexed into the assignment, but avoided altogether. Remember, somewhere else Jesus said, “Seek first my kingdom…etc etc.”

Jesus’ demands are not without reward. Seek him and the rest falls into line. All your worries will be addressed within the Kingdom of your loving Father. The promise is God’s joy over you, that’s worth it.

What are my “flesh’s” agendas and ambitions? A life of ease, satisfying my appetites, fame in my world. To avoid them I will need to take up my cross. This means I would: work and be busy with my assignments (in home and in heart), to eat healthily and economically; to offer with abandon the labors of my heart. All with eyes fixed on Jesus (source and goal of my faith.)

What are your “flesh’s” agendas and ambitions? What must you do to avoid them? 

Am I up for it? This morning’s Lectio Divina from Psalm 119 comes to mind as the only source of power if I am to make the line: Oh Lord, “give me life.” Both my power and plan come God’s power and plan.

Dear Lord Jesus, thank you that you see in me the potential for coming after you. Thank you that you give me clear cut definitions of what I am to do to follow you. Grant me the grace to rely on your generous power and your loving face to deny myself, take up my cross and follow. Thank you and amen.

 

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a parable

A Parable  – Mark 10:46-52

I wasn’t always blind. I was made blind through the innocent act of my brother. He was attempting a job beyond his skill level and the job got away from him, blinding me. He didn’t intend any harm. He is not to blame, but nevertheless, his need to do the job without help cost me my sight.

You may ask, “Where was our father? Isn’t it the father’s job to guard us, keep us from danger, wisely judging when we were ready for the job?” My brother and I were products of his love, a love that loved well, but not always with wisdom. My father is not to blame, but nevertheless, his hesitancy in saying no cost me my sight.

I am now a beggar. I don’t know how to beg. I used to walk this thoroughfare as a sighted, important person. The beggars on the side of the road were inconsequential to my journey, white noise. Now I am one of them and must learn to beg without even eyes to watch them, to see how it is done.

Yet somehow within me there is an optimism, muted, but real. Not Pollyanna-ish, but a hope that all can be well. Some might call it denial. I don’t. I feel it is a confidence, no that’s too strong a descriptor; it is more a trust in Good. All will be well somehow.

The hubbub of the crowd along the thoroughfare is constant, but I sense its voice changing. It is becoming more focused in its attention. There is someone important coming toward me on the road. I can tell by the tone of the crowd. I hear that the one coming toward me is Jesus. I’ve heard of him. I’ve heard how he has healed. I’ve heard how he sees people the crowd or the important people do not see. Maybe he can hear me.

I yell out toward him, calling his name, reminding him of his heritage and begging, not for alms or aid, but for mercy. I can get alms from any passer-by…but they have no mercy for me. I long for Jesus to see me and realize that my dilemma is not my fault, to maybe use his reputed healing power to heal me. “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.” My voice persists, in fact it builds. I’m aware of the crowd trying to quiet me. But instead they are quieted as I sense Jesus has stopped. My voice alone is heard – almost a whisper now in the hush. “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me. I am Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus. I am in need of your mercy.”

In the quiet, I hear your call, your call to come to you. Your desire for me advances to me through the crowd. “Come.” Unchecked, I spring up and rush to you, groping arms outstretched because I’m not sure what’s in front of me, unaware of the crowd, who in retrospect I realize must have parted to make a way for me to follow your call. I come to you and fall on your chest. My head is buried in your embrace. I smell your closeness. I feel your arms. I sink into your strength. I hear your voice, “What do you want?”

“I want my life back. I want a ministry. I want to be used for your work, for your sake, for the Kingdom.” You hold me while I weep into your shoulder. Minutes passed. (Maybe hours, maybe seconds, I don’t know. Time stood still.)

When you finally speak you commend me and say to me that my trust in you, my faith in your power to restore has made me well. I am not aware of any faith on my part. I know only my need to be near you in my desperation. Yet, when I open my eyes, while still tucked in your embrace, I see the crowds watching me lean on you. I can see again. And I see the people observing me depend on you. They see my clinging to you. And you say…”This is your ministry now; let them see your utter dependence on me, let them see your continued leaning on me, clinging to me, relying on my mercy. This is your life and your ministry now.”

I physically let go of clinging to you, so I can follow as you lead. Yet I carry this truth with me. My true self will always be clinging to you. I will let them see my need of you.

How to live near the Kingdom of Heaven

Thoughts on Mark 12:28-34

An earnest, seeking scribe, listened to Jesus’ wise words and asked Jesus the question that was on his heart. “Which commandment is the first of all?” Today some religious people’s test of piety is where one stands on certain issues, say abortion, or sexuality or even smoking. It was the same in Jesus’ day. Religious people broke into groups that favored one commandment over the others – us vs them.

On behalf of all earnest seekers throughout history the scribe asked the important question, out of all the commandments which is the primary one that contains and informs the others? 

Notice Jesus’ answer. It begins with “Hear.” If you’re going to ask a question of Jesus, then you better be ready to listen to his answer. This scribe was. He asked not for the sake of argument, or to prove Jesus wrong, but because he truly wanted to hear from Jesus how to order his life.

“‘The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’”

Contained within his answer is the picture of a united divinity, the Lord our God is one; a united fellowship, the Lord our God is one;  and a united person, love God with every part of your being, your heart, soul, mind and strength.

And then Jesus gives a bonus answer, “The second is this, `You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

That sums it up. And the earnest scribe got it. He heard Jesus’ answer to his question, he acknowledged that what Jesus said was true and that to keep these two commandments meant more to God than any ritually performed acts of worship or service.

Jesus observed that the scribe answered wisely. This is the only time this phrase is used in the entire NT. The scribe listened well. He received Jesus words as the words of life. He was close to the Kingdom.

In such a manner is the Kingdom approached, by earnestly seeking Jesus to learn how to live, by allowing him to be Lord and his words to determine the way I live. Yes, this is my prayer. Thank you and amen

God holds God’s breath

Here’s a suggestion about keeping your daily devotions fresh. Read the scripture in a Bible version different than your usual one. This is how a favorite Psalm recently gave me some encouragement.

In my regular old NRSV Psalm 5:3 reads:

Oh Lord, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I plead my case to you and watch.

It’s a very sweet reminder; regularly present my needs to God and then stand back and watch God handle the situation.

But the other morning I read Psalm 5 from the Jerusalem Bible, and I noticed a different emphasis:

I say this prayer to you, Yahweh, for at daybreak you listen for my voice; and at dawn I hold myself in readiness for you, I watch for you.

“…for at daybreak you listen for my voice.” God doesn’t just hear your case, God actually is eager to hear the words you will speak; almost holding his breath in anticipation of receiving you and your prayers. Yahweh is not indifferent toward you; like a parent listening for the sound of her child awakening in the morning, God stands at the door of your heart waiting for an invitation to enter.

Your response is to “hold yourself in readiness.” The NRSV sounds rather passive, “I watch.” This translation  suggests an alertness, a readiness to spring into action, an anticipation that God will act and you need to be good to go.

Such a mutuality. God, eager to listen; you eager to respond. Yay, God! and Yay, You!

Why I’ll never be a super blogger

“You need a memorable tag line,” adamantly declared one presenter. Another concurred, “You need to have your elevator pitch ready.”

I naively attended a national Christian writer’s conference expecting instruction on honing my craft. Instead, I learned what I needed to do to become a “super blogger.” I didn’t really want to be a super blogger, but they knew better than me, they were published and recognized authors. The world needed my voice, they preached, and how could it find me unless my blog gained an impressive platform, with thousands of followers. So I diligently set out to write a sentence or two that communicated who I was, what I write, why I write it and to whom I write that was deliverable in the time it would take to ride an elevator to the second floor.

And got nowhere. All my attempts, which were many, felt canned, cramped, inauthentic. I gave up on it and contented myself with my narrow, but deep influence on the 150 or so followers who had found me.

Until one day while trolling through facebook I came across a video someone had posted. (Sorry I cannot give credit to the post-er, or the video itself. I’ve tried to find it since with no luck.) The video was of a business consultant who worked with companies and organizations helping them motivate and increase their employees productivity and morale. “Don’t ask a person what they do, that will give you the flat, specific, boring details of their work situation. Instead ask them why they do what they do. This question engages their cherished dreams, their most valued hopes and most important relationships.”

So I asked myself, Debby, why do you write what you write? The answer descended like the fire at Pentecost. “I wake up every morning eager to hear God’s voice of love and then share it through my life, my writings and my words.” Bingo! I still smile when I repeat that phrase. It’s an answer to all the demands of an elevator pitch and beyond that gives me energy, focus and informs not only my writing but all the actions of life. It is my monk’s rule!

I almost live a monastic life. My husband and I recently moved from a 900 sq foot condominium in the heart of San Francisco, to a two acre farm in the Hudson Valley of New York. I wake each morning and eagerly await God’s voice of love. I encounter it in the quiet of our home before anyone else is awake. The scripture I read and the songs I sing, alternately whisper or shout “God is here, God sees, God cares, God needs you.” My journal pages capture the heartbeat of God’s love and I often share it with the world through my blog. My dogs greet me with great affection, presumptuously finding their way onto the center of my lap. What wonderful reminders of the welcome that awaits me in the lap of my loving God. My husband joins me and we enjoy companionable coffee, share our plans for the day and I recall the companionship of the Trinity.  The constant changing of my garden teaches me almost all of what I need to understand about the spiritual life.

Trained in the Ignatian mode of Spiritual Direction, I am particularly fond of Imaginative prayer, putting myself in the gospel story, becoming one of or interacting with the characters. Such a prayer practice evokes deep and often hidden beauty and wounds within my soul. Once while praying with the gospel account of Jesus preaching to the crowds while standing on Peter and Andrew’s fishing boat, I was prompted to “be the boat.”

I felt such humble gratitude that Jesus would use me as his platform for speaking of God’s love. I basked in the joy of that privilege for quite some time. And when Jesus invited Peter and Andrew to become fishers of men, and they then left their boats and followed him, such an anger erupted within me. “What, you’re going to leave me behind.” I never knew there was such pride hidden within my heart. This prayer shed light upon it and allowed me to welcome my need to be needed into the loving and healing presence of God. I can now more easily rejoice in God’s creative use of all kinds of people and things to communicate his great love for the world. Me included!

My parish may be small, but I am its pastor. And the more I let myself be loved, the more loving I become. It’s my life’s journey.  It is how I am a monk in the world.

With you on the journey,

Debby Bellingham

(This was first published on the website: Abbey of the Arts)

Advent Retreat update

Sadly, I have to report that the Advent retreat, scheduled for December 2nd will not be happening. (sad face). But if you would like to receive the Advent devotional that you would have received at the retreat, please sign up for it below.

OR, if you would like to receive the advent devotional, even if you weren’t able to make the retreat, sign up below.

With you on the journey,

Debby

The time I said “screw you” to God

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Jesus wants us to enter discipleship with our eyes wide open. He splashes water on the face of the overzealous one; he startles awake the one who is stuck in the past; and today he drives home the point about our need for intentionality when we choose to follow him. Read on….

Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him “No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:61,62

Some equivocate about their discipleship. One foot in – the other out. Jesus calls us to a unity of purpose, an undivided heart and loyalty. Just before Jesus had these three encounters with would-be followers, the scripture records: “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Luke 9:51 Other translations read, “he resolutely set his face to go to Jerusalem.” He turned his face, his body, his steps toward the fate that awaited him there. He would not turn aside from his commitment to obedience and living out his life’s prayer, “Thy will be done.”

Someone who knows about farming told me the way to make the best use of your farmland and to use every possible acre to grow your desired crop was to make your rows straight and square. He said the way to do this was to start on one end of your field, pick a spot on the opposite end and then keep staring at that spot as you start moving toward it with your plough or your tractor. Keep your eye fixed on the one spot, because if you get distracted and look away, you will end up with a crooked row.

I never thought my self an equivocator. I came to Christ at seventeen and remember a spirit of gratitude that my love for him and, more importantly, his for me held my rows straight. I watched my fellow Christian girlfriends throw the Lord over for a guy and I prayed God would not let me abandon my faith because of my desire for a boyfriend. (I must admit there was some judgement on my part going on.)

My rows remained relatively straight as I went to wedding after wedding, watched my girlfriends get married and start families. These women were still my friends, but they were busy with their new lifestyle and there wasn’t a lot of room for a single. So I made new friends and watched them marry. Same story unfolded. It was getting harder and harder to make new friends.

That’s when he came along. Handsome, fun, came from a great family, and was attracted to me. My rows began to go a little crooked. 

It began innocently enough, I agreed to go out with him so I could “share the Lord with him.” One date led to the next and within three months I told God to screw it. I had always wanted an intimate relationship with a man, God had never given me one, so I would get it on my own. Sure, he wasn’t a believer, and in my gut I knew I was settling for less than I truly wanted, but at least he was real, I could talk to him and hug him. So, take that God!

Ah but God wasn’t willing to let me go so easily.

The very weekend I told my boyfriend about my decision to let our relationship move to the next level of intimacy, I found him in the corner of the bar where we had gone with friends making out with another woman!

I stormed out of the bar and was more angry with God than with him. “Damn you, God. You won’t give me what I want and won’t let me get it on my own.” 

My row had a big crooked curve in it now.

It took years for me to process my anger toward God. The humiliating and confusing experience I had when I found my boyfriend in that compromising position has been redeemed by God’s grace. In retrospect, I feel God was spreading a net to catch me as I attempted spiritual suicide. And I am grateful for the rescue. 

The farmer’s straight rows and God’s dramatic intervention in my romantic life demonstrate how serious Jesus is about intentional discipleship. We need to fix our eyes on Jesus, the source and goal of our faith. Keep moving toward him, do not be distracted from our destination and our end. If we get distracted, or look back, we will lose our way, get off track. Our rows will be crooked and our harvest less plentiful.

The second sentence of my rule provides hope for such a life: “This mentored life is possible because God’s good and just love has been given to you in Jesus Christ.”

It is God’s gift to us, we receive and learn to live it, trusting God’s faithfulness, his forgiveness, his love and his power to teach us well.

With you on the journey,

Debby