Thursday, January 26, 2012

Did You Come Expecting Anything?

Why did you come to this blog today? What kinds of emotions swirled through your mind as you connected to this site, scrolled through your bookmarks, slid into this file? Did you have any particular expectations for this reflection or did you come here looking for some special image that might brighten your day? Maybe you came here out of habit, perhaps a habit fueled by a genuine faith. Or maybe you had to drag yourself here. Maybe you felt inwardly crabby as you pulled yourself out of bed and logged on to find the weather and mistakenly clicked onto this blog. You didn't get near enough sleep last night, and the kids drive you clean up a wall as you try your best to get them dressed and out the door on time for school. Maybe you came here feeling sad, maybe joyful. Maybe you came bearing a lot of guilt on the inside, maybe you came here hanging on to lots of fear if its OK to come to pray here, or maybe without having given much thought one way or the other as to what shape your life has been in lately.

But did you come expecting anything? C.S. Lewis once penned some thoughts on worship, he was uncomfortable with the notion that every worship service needed to be a kind of variety show. Worship or praying, Lewis wrote, should be a bit like dancing. Once you have learned how to dance and have become good at it, you are able to immerse yourself in the dance and just do it almost without thinking about it. But if you must constantly look down at your feet, if you have to think about each movement before you actually make it, then you can't dance yet but are just learning how to dance.

I like to believe that coming to this blog is like a dance that you are so good at you can just do it freely and flowingly, but we dare never forget who our dance partner is! Anyway we chose to pray, whether in our church, or on our knees at night, with a rosary or bible in our hand or seated at our computer reflecting on this Sonshine, Jesus is here and it makes all the difference for the rest of our day.

We believe that we meet Jesus here every time we click to this blog. Whether at font and table, in prayer, music, and the Word, we believe we are getting caught up in the dance of life and hope and joy and what's more, we are dancing with no less than the Lord of Life.

Immanuel prays for us as we reflect; “Then young women will dance and be glad, young man and old as well. I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.” (Jeremiah 31:12-14).

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who love to dance and look to you as our partner who leads us to safety and joy. May we hop and skip like kids again and feel the happiness in our hearts that we are in the hands of wonderful God who has chosen us to be his beloved for all eternity.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

I Love You

An adult education teacher once gave his class an assignment to go to someone they love before the following week's class and tell them that they loved them. They would then give their report at the next class. It had to be someone to whom they had never said those words before, or at least not for a very long time.

At the next class, one man stood up and recounted his story to the class. "I was quite angry with the teacher last week when you gave us this assignment. I felt that who were you to tell us to do something so personal? But as I was driving home, my conscience started talking to me. It was telling me that I knew exactly who I needed to say 'I love you' to. Five years ago, my father and I had a terrible argument that we have never resolved. We have avoided seeing each other unless it was absolutely necessary and even then we hardly spoke to each other. So last week by the time I had gotten home after class, I had convinced myself to tell my father that I loved him.

It's strange, but just making the decision seemed to lift a heavy load off my chest. When I told my wife, she jumped out of bed, gave me a big hug and for the first time in our married life saw me cry.

The next day I was up bright and early as if I had slept soundly all night. At 9am, I called my father to tell him I wanted to come over after work and talk to him. He reluctantly agreed. By 5:30, I was at the house. When my father answered the door, I didn't waste any time. I took one step inside and blurted out 'Dad, I just came over to tell you that I love you.'

Well, it was as if a transformation had come over him. Before my eyes, his face softened, the wrinkles seemed to disappear and he too began to cry. He reached out and hugged me, saying 'I love you too, son, but I've never been able to say it.' I didn't stay long, but I hadn't felt that great in a long time.

Two days after my visit, my dad, who had had heart problems but hadn't told us, had an attack and ended up unconscious in the hospital. I still don't know if he'll make it. So my message to all of you in this class is: don't wait to do the things you know need to be done. If I had waited, I may never have another chance to do what I did."

We all need to tell the people that we love how much we love them. We always presume that they know. But maybe they don't, and besides it wouldn't kill us to say so.

Immanuel prays for us as we reflect; “But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you.” (Psalm 130:3-5).

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends and let me personally say "I Love You" for all your years of wonderful support. May you find these words of affirmation a sign that God is well pleased with your life that reflects a divine love for all creatures great and small.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

I Squealed on Myself

A good friend shared that she volunteers at her church cleaning the altar and she was feeling terrible about lots of things in her life. Then one of her fellow workers asked her to do something and she started to scream back at her friend. She admits that whatever her friend wanted set her over the top and she just lost it. She has no idea what she was complaining about, but she felt embarrassed and walked over to the confessional to “squeal on herself.” Obviously, it must have been 4 o’clock in the afternoon if father was open for business.

On her knees, she told the priest her sins, but she started sobbing in the confessional. The kind man listened through her tears, but she felt burned out from all the stress in the past few months and the healing came as quickly as the squealing. Father gave her penance of three Hail Mary’s and she left relieved but went up to her fellow volunteers to say that she was sorry.

You have to admit we go through so many stresses that there are moments we feel like screaming at the top of our lungs. It actually can be quite relieving, but screaming while cleaning a pew was quite a shock for her cleaning buddies.

Once again, it was moment to trust that God can help us surrender our tension and give us the hope that the brokenness we experience can be mended with a kind word. Her cleaning buddies told her to go home and get some rest and don’t worry about cleaning the linens. They would gladly pick up the load while she went home to take a nap. Better yet, she had the kind of friends who do not hold a grudge and gossip behind her back. She was having a bad day and they promised to pray for her that all her troubles would be resolved and she back helping again.

Lord, only knows that our shouts and screams are a cry for help when life gives us more than we can handle. The compassion comes from our friends who offer a hug and reassuring words to take a break and they promise to check on us to make sure that we are felling better.

Thank you Lord for such wonderful friends who don’t take us seriously but allow us to vent and holler and give us the grace and courage to persevere through the miserable days.

Immanuel prays for us as we reflect; “I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for help.” (Psalm 116:1).

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who squeal on themselves in humility for we know that we are not always at our best. Thank you for friends who accept us when we are a terror and take us into their arms with no questions asked. What a surprise and wonderful grace to be loved by a God who hears the cries of his people.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

We Are Star Stuff

I'd like to begin this Epiphany Sonshine reflection by describing one of the most beautiful sights a person can see. For this photographer, it involves getting up very early in the morning - before dawn, when there are still stars visible in the sky. The sun has not yet risen, but you can see its light on the eastern horizon. Little by little the stars begin to disappear. Soon there is only one left and it is not a star. It is the planet Venus. Finally the light of the sun overcomes Venus, the Morning Star.

Something like this happened to the Magi when thy came come from the east because they had seen a "star." We don't know exactly what the star refers to. The Chicago Planetarium once had an exhibit titled "The Star of Bethlehem." They reconstructed the heavens around the time of Jesus' birth and speculated that the star may have referred to a comet, some configuration of planets or perhaps the Morning Star itself. Whatever it was, the star led to Jesus. But when the Magi found Jesus, things changed. Jesus was like the sun rising at dawn. The Wise Men no longer needed stars and planets. They now had the bright, life-giving sun.

The poet Lope de Vega wrote a beautiful poem about this. Its title is: “The arrival of the Magi Kings.” Lope de Vega describes how the star guided them in the dark night, but when they found Jesus, the stars faded. Here is a translation of Lope de Vega's poem into English:

You Kings, who come from the East,
are searching the night sky
looking at the their beautiful lights.

Do not follow them now
for where the sun is
the stars have no light.

The Child shines upon you.
And where the sun is
the stars have no light.

Lope de Vega is thinking about the practice of astrology. It was something that attracted him, but he realized that if he was going to follow Christ, he would have to give up astrology. A famous astronomer named Carl Sagan said, "We are star stuff." That is a poetic phrase and it is true as far as it goes. The matter that forms us was ultimately forged in the furnace of stars. But, unfortunately, Sagan meant it in an absolute sense: We are only star stuff. However, I like the phrase “We are star stuff.”

As Christians, we admit that we are material beings, but we believe that we are something more. When we encounter Christ, his light overwhelms even the stars.

Sometimes darkness enters our lives and we find ourselves lost and confused. In those moments, keep in mind that are “star stuff” filled with light of the divine. The best part of the wondrous Magi story comes at the end: they left us a promise. For at last they found what they were looking for. And so will we.

Immanuel watches over us as we reflect: “While the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?” (Job 38:7).

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who look to the morning star to guide us each day to be a true sign of God’s love here on earth.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Rainbow on New Year's Day

I am driving to get gas for the tractor before the snowstorm when the cell phone rings to inform me to look north. Over my left shoulder is the most perfect rainbow that frames all the plowed fields in the most stunning image you can imagine. I say imagine because my camera was in the closet at home and not at my side.

Sometimes that’s where we tend to put God. In the closet and not at our side. We drive along life with all our fears and hurts. We wonder if we are doing the right things in life. Are we caring for our loved ones enough? Am I working at the right job? Do I take good care of ourselves or do we neglect to exercise and eat the healthy greens.

Over time, the hurts begin to accumulate that we no longer are ourselves. Instead of kindness and patience, we find ourselves irritable and full of venom. We are no longer pleasant to ourselves because we have experienced so much rejection. Jesus farewell gift to his disciples and ourselves was a “shalom.” This is not a peace that eliminates frustrations or disappointments. Rather imagine a quiet peace that reminds us that we a never alone in our tears and God is at our side to guide us with his wisdom and courage.

Rainbows were a sign from heaven that we are never alone and that we are never in control of our destiny. Rather, we are on a path guided by a wonderful God who has sent his Son into the world to show us how to live a life filled with grace and wonder. Let this rainbow experience help us to meditate and relax that we are in the hands of a compassionate God who wishes no harm on all his creation.

Immanuel watches over us as we reflect: “I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” (Genesis 9:13).

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who need a rainbow in their life to remind them that You are faithful to your promise to watch over us and guide us in our everyday life. Help us to be aware of your loving presence and we give you thanks.