Preventing Hurricanes

“Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts.”

—The Epistle of James

If only we could control the weather.
Were we able to do so, Hurricane Florence never would have reached the East Coast. We would have squelched it into a gentle breeze in the mid-Atlantic.
If we could control the weather, no hurricane by any name would ever blow, nor any tornado twist.
There would be no floods.
There would be no droughts.
And not a blizzard in sight.
The weather would be perfect. The temperature ideal.
We would save so many lives and free everyone from all weather-related anxiety. No home would be destroyed. No property damaged.
We’d allow just the right amount of rain to fall, and at just the right time for crops and wells. A few picturesque snowflakes might be nice on Christmas Eve, but not enough to spoil anyone’s plans.
But, the world’s weather is far beyond our control and we watched the huge swirling mass of Florence drawing closer and closer, a monstrous nightmare we could do nothing about.
The feeling of helplessness was overwhelming.
But not all of the world’s weather is beyond our ability to shape and change.
Other storms are very much within our power to prevent or control:
The hurricanes inside us.
The tornadoes we twist into the lives of others.
The floods of anger.
And droughts of love.
Our emotions can truly wound or certainly heal.
We are instruments of small, personal wars or catalysts of family and community peace.
Our words can be swords or plowshares.
And that choice is always ours. We, alone, decide.
By recognizing the gathering clouds of our own “bad weather,” we can discern that, Hey, I might respond angrily here, or selfishly; I might throw down a lightning bolt if I’m not careful.
Yes, we can stop our own storms before they thunder.
And we can make certain there is never a Hurricane Me by opening our souls to the love of God and letting the Lord’s “weather” fill our hearts before we speak or act.
As the apostle James goes on to say in his epistle, following his warning about the source of human conflicts and disputes:

“…The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.”

There are no mandatory evacuation notices when we forecast God’s love.
And no states of emergency.

“Ephphatha”

“They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then he looked up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’ And immediately his ears were opened, and his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.”

—The Gospel of Mark

There are times—too many, I’m afraid—when I am just like the deaf man in this story. I cannot hear the voice of God telling me that I am loved.
Honestly, I think many, if not all of us, experience this deafness from time to time in our lives.
The world has deafened us to the small, quiet voice within us. We can no longer hear it. Our head and heart and our soul are filled with the world’s shouting about anything and everything but God’s love. And we don’t even know it.
We believe that we are still listening to God’s voice of love. We haven’t stopped praying. We haven’t stopped reading scripture. We haven’t stopped our meditation and contemplation. We’re still going to church. We believe we’re just as tuned in to God’s frequency as ever.
But we are not.
The world has become too loud. Sometimes, I think, I mistake something that the world is saying as being the words of God.
But God doesn’t talk to me like that. God never says those sorts of things about me. Words that may make me feel good about myself but don’t bring me peace. Words that might feed my ego and my need for affirmation but are the equivalent of drinking Diet Love or Love-Lite.
I should know better.
There is a distinct difference between the way God assures me that I am beloved and the way the world says, ‘I love you’ one minute then withholds affection in the very next heartbeat, telling me that I am not good enough.
When I am deafened to God’s voice of love, something else happens, too. Just like the deaf man in the Gospel of Mark, I develop an impediment in my speech.
My voice begins to sound more like it has been taught to speak by the world. I am too prone to mimic the world, rather than articulate the true speech of love that God tries so desperately to teach us by assuring us we are loved. That all of us are.
Truly loved by true love. A love that never demeans or seeks to diminish or lure down false pathways. That never says, ‘I love you’ one minute and then throws you into the recycling bin.
When I recognize the sound of the world speaking in my own voice, I understand that it has happened again—I have become deaf to God’s voice of love. I have closed myself off to that voice of love and begun listening only to the world, and without even realizing it.
And so I cry out to that love and for that love as the world seems to gather its breath so that it can blow all of that love away. Even the tree limbs begin to sway in the gathering breeze.
It is then that I can suddenly discern that I am no longer hearing the wind in the leaves but, instead, the sound of Jesus sighing beside me. And then he leads me away from the gathering storm.
“Be opened,” he tells me, when we are alone. “Be opened and receive God’s love. Be opened and speak plainly of God’s love. Do not let the world close you up and away from me.”
And so I am here. With you. Speaking of love as plainly as I can. And listening. Listening with all of my heart.

Where Else Can We Possibly Go?

“…So Jesus asked the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go?’”

—The sixth chapter of the Gospel of John

Jesus had just blown their minds.
“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them,” he had told them. “Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”
Nobody in the synagogue in Capernaum had ever heard anything like that before. Say what? Go ahead, pull the other one.
But Jesus wasn’t pulling anyone’s leg. Everyone who heard him could tell that he was deadly serious. That’s why they left. Because Jesus believed in what he was telling them.
“This teaching is difficult,” many of them responded. “Who can accept it?”
Many still find it hard to swallow today. They shouldn’t. Swallowing an idea and being utterly transformed by it has been occurring throughout human history, sometimes with wondrous results, at other times starting wars.
We are surrounded by people who’ve swallowed an idea. Look in the mirror, there’s one now. Most people have swallowed dozens of ideas and sometimes found their lives revolutionized.
People swallow an idea about a particular diet and their bodies are visibly transformed. Others swallow yoga or meditation and find inner peace. Some swallow the idea that running or walking every day is the right step toward health and achieve fantastic results.
Look at the advertisements that surround us online, on televisions and radios, in newspapers, magazines and on billboards. They are solely designed to get us to swallow an idea.
Consider all of the people who swallow the idea that they should became a fan of this or that sports team. They start painting their faces in team colors, dressing up in the team’s jersey and watch every game. They plan their lives around the team’s schedule.
So, this idea-swallowing ability of human beings is an every-day thing.
“The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life,” Jesus tried to explain, but some just didn’t understand. Most of them undoubtedly got stuck on the image of literally eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood, rather than swallowing the idea that there is a spark of divine love inside them. A spark that is like a seed, waiting to be sown and cultivated, and, then, fully harvested to become the bread of heaven.
A Christ-ness inside them, if they’d only swallow.
But some, like Simon Peter, absolutely got it. No, he didn’t yet understand completely. That wouldn’t happen until after the resurrection. But Simon Peter knew he’d found something unlike anything else on earth. He is bewildered, mesmerized but intent on following the train of thought.
When everyone else looked at him, Simon Peter knew, they saw only a simple fisherman. But, when Jesus looked at him, he somehow saw the light of the world.
And that blew Simon Peter’s mind.
But he wasn’t about to walk away. There was no other place he could possibly go. No one else who would ever look at him that way.
The way Jesus looks at us, seeing the light of the world.
If we’d only swallow.
And shine into the darkness.

With Our Hole Heart

“Hallelujah!
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart.”

—Psalm 111

The Psalmist wants us to hold nothing back.
Wants us to shout ‘Hallelujah’ from the highest peak and from the deepest valley. From the brightest day and from the darkest night.
Give thanks to the Lord with our whole heart.
Every inch. Each corner of our heart.
Across our heart’s entire lifetime.
Down every hallway of our heart and inside every room—even those that we keep carefully locked, and sometimes pretend aren’t there.
But, we must unlock those rooms, go inside and turn on the light.
Because we might just find something else.
Something quite unexpected, something wondrous and life-changing.
I know that is what I found.
Down certain hallways and inside particular rooms that I have carefully locked and then walked away from—trying to convince myself that I have moved on from what’s inside them—is where I found the holes in my heart.
The places of deepest pain and sorrow too wide to wade through.
The places that are over my head.
The places that make me feel as if I am drowning.
How, I asked myself, can I shout “Hallelujah!” about the things that had made so many holes in my heart?
How could I possibly give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart for those holes in my heart?
Such a thing is impossible, I told myself. It simply can’t be done.
But then I turned on the light and found there was a way after all. I discovered that I wasn’t alone in that room that I had carefully locked and walked away from. The Lord had slipped in beside me after I’d turned the key, opened the door and stepped inside.
No, I was not alone.
I felt the Lord surrounding me with love, filling the holes of my heart with love.
I was astonished. Amazingly, the holes were where the Lord’s love most truly found me.
A love that flowed into every hole in my heart, filling each of them until the love ran over, and I felt the current of that love taking me away, out of the room, down the hallway.
And I heard the key falling to the floor.
I wouldn’t need it anymore.
The door will remain open. The light always on. The shades ever raised.
The holes, I admit, are still there. Right there in my heart. They always will be.
But they are no longer places to mourn and fear because they are filled now with the Lord’s love.
The holes in my heart truly are where the Lord loves me the most. There, where I am so utterly vulnerable and powerless to resist.
For that I absolutely can and do shout ‘Hallelujah!’ and give thanks with my whole heart.
Every square inch of my lifetime.
Holes and all.
Every single one of them.

Feast On This

“Taste and see that the Lord is good.”

—Psalm 34:8

Come and get it.
Dig in.
Breakfast’s ready. Lunch and dinner, too.
This kitchen serves it up 24-7.
Open all day. Open all night.
Never a second when the door is closed and none of the doors have locks.
And there’s a place around the table for everyone.
Yes, come and taste and see that Lord is good.
In fact, the Lord is something quite special.
Delicious and sustaining.
A meal unto itself.
“Taste the Lord.”
What an extraordinary invitation the psalmist extends to us.
We aren’t invited to read something and think about it.
We aren’t asked to lock ourselves away in deep meditation in hopes a revelation will come to us.
“Taste and see that the Lord is good.”
Merriam-Webster’s definitions of “taste” are telling:
“To ascertain the flavor.”
“To perceive or recognize.”
“To become acquainted with by experience.”
“Appreciate, enjoy.”
And all of these definitions directly apply to the invitation to “taste and see that the Lord is good.”
Ascertain the flavor of Love.
Perceive Love.
Recognize Love.
Become acquainted with Love by experiencing it.
Appreciate Love.
Enjoy Love.
I mean, really, what more could we possibly want?
After all, this love is all we need.
And for that we can thank Jesus and the door he opened to the Trinity of Love and our relationship with it.
The concept of the Trinity can be difficult to wrap our heads around. Let’s leave our heads out of it and use the taste buds of our soul, instead.
Think of the Trinity as the most incredible meal in the history of the world. The Holy Spirit is the wondrous scent that whets our appetites. We can’t see it or taste it, but we know it’s there, invisible but palpable. Jesus is this Love made manifest among us. The sight of this Love. The voice of it. The touch and feel of it. And it is Jesus who leads our souls to a direct place at the table with this Love:
“I in them and you and me, may they be perfectly one,” he prays to Love in the 17th chapter of the Gospel of John.
A prayer that was answered.
God’s Love is already deep inside our soul. Taste this miraculous truth.
Swallow it. And inwardly digest the feast.

Unsung Hero

“One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?’ Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down.’ Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about 5,000 in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.”

—The Gospel of John

The hero of this parable isn’t Andrew. And, despite this legendary miracle, the hero isn’t Jesus, either.
The heroic figure in this story is the anonymous the boy.
But perhaps we know more about him than we think.
We know that he came to see Jesus, and apparently alone because there is no mention of any parent or adult with him. So he is brave, questing and probably quite spiritual. Perhaps not unlike Jesus was as a youth.
And he brought five barley loaves and two fish. Nobody else in the crowd had any food readily visible. Why did the boy have the loaves and fishes? If he had traveled far, the bread and fish might have been all the food he had to survive the journey. Or, if he’d come only a short distance, the boy might have arrived prepared to share his food with others. For that is what he certainly did.
Either way, he is also of a giving, compassionate nature. Perhaps not unlike Jesus was as a boy. And that makes me wonder.
I especially wonder what Jesus said to the boy as Andrew and the other disciples were telling 5,000 people to sit down. Jesus didn’t just walk up and take the five barley loaves and two fish from the youngster. Of course not. He would have spoken to the boy about the hunger of the people all around him, and the wondrous possibilities if the boy gave him the loaves and fishes.
Jesus once said that unless one becomes like a little child it will be impossible for them to enter the kingdom of heaven. This parable shows us what he meant by that.
The boy didn’t make a fuss about giving Jesus all of the food he’d brought with him. There was no argument. Their conversation attracted nobody’s attention because there is nothing written about it. All the words were spoken quietly between Jesus and the boy.
Nor did the boy question Jesus’ ability to feed so many people with so little food. No, Andrew, the adult, had done that. The boy simply gave Jesus the five loaves and two fish, fully expecting Jesus to feed everyone there.
The boy clearly had the strong faith of innocence, the kind of faith that could walk on water. I wonder if Jesus saw himself in the boy, recognized a kindred spirit. I suspect that he did.
No, there would have been no famous miracle without this unknown boy who knew the kingdom of heaven when he saw it. And, standing there with Jesus, that child made the kingdom of heaven manifest to the 5,000. And to us.
I wonder where in the world that boy is today.
Here’s a thought:
You’ve got a barley loaf. I have a fish. Let’s go in search of him.
After all, he may be waiting somewhere for us with Jesus.
And if we do undertake this journey and do somehow find him, we will also find ourselves.

Among The Sounds Of Silence

“The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in a boat to a deserted place by themselves.”

—the Gospel of Mark

The apostles’ energy reserves were drained to the dregs.
They’d walked everywhere telling as many people as they could about the Kingdom of Heaven. They had blisters on their feet and aches and pains all over.
Jesus heard the fatigue in their voices.
Saw the lines of weariness on their faces.
Discerned the stoop of shoulders.
Jesus had been there and felt all of that.
He understood the danger of burning up all of one’s physical, spiritual and emotional fuel without pausing to re-fill the tank.
Such self-neglect could have dire consequences to them personally and to their mission.
The Gospels tell us that Jesus regularly went off “to a lonely place” by himself, re-charging his batteries through prayer, contemplation and just plain rest.
He knew the prescription the Apostles needed to have filled for their rejuvenation: Go off to that lonely place and rest.
Jesus’ advice is timelessly wise. But going off to a lonely place can be nearly impossible because most of us carry the crowded world and all of its incessant distractions everywhere with us:
Smart phones. The digital umbilical cord connecting us to static chatter and hubbub.
Can’t live with them.
Can’t live without them.
When the Apostles went off to that quiet hillside by the sea for their spiritual retreat, they did not take the compulsive demands of social media with them.
Texts and emails did not call upon their time. The only tweets came from the birds singing among the trees at dawn. There were no incoming Instagram messages to respond to. If you’d said “Facebook” to them, they would have wondered what in the world you were talking about.
Yes, the apostles could have found effective ways to incorporate social media into their mission, spreading The Gospel by streaming Jesus live, putting the Sermon on the Mount on YouTube.
Just as all of us are fortunate to have social media as a useful tool to expand our ability to communicate and connect. As you and I are doing now. But we need to manage our social media rather than be managed by it.
Today, Jesus would have this additional piece of advice for his Apostles: “Oh, yes, and before you go off to that lonely place to rest, leave your smart phones with me. Otherwise, you will never find a lonely place. Every hillside, shaded glen and mountaintop will be filled to overflowing with the world and its distractions.”
We’d be wise to listen to him. Our lonely place might be a quiet room in the house, the shade of a tree in the back yard, the sanctuary of our church on a Tuesday morning or Thursday afternoon, or some favorite trail at a local state park.
When we go to those lonely places to re-charge, let’s turn our smart phones off and leave them behind. Without the world’s siren song, we can better hear the small, quiet voice of the Holy Spirit in our soul.
And take it back with us into the world when our rest is done and there is more work to do.

An Aramaic Pronunciation Guide

I’ve had some faithful companions wonder how to pronounce the Aramaic translation of “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” that is in this week’s blog, The Language Of Love. A very good question and I should have stated how I pronounce the words, as a helpful hint for those who want to join in speaking the words of Jesus in his own language as part of their daily prayer. Here goes:

“wSalxani imassayu latbirai libba tubaihon labile dhinnon itbayun.”

I pronounce it:

Saulshahnee emmasawyou lahtbearee leebah tubahone lahbeel deeknown itbahyune

The Language Of Love

A handful of years ago, I bought an English/Aramaic dictionary because I wanted to learn something of the language of Jesus.
Feel how some of the words that he spoke felt on my lips and tongue.
How they sounded in my voice, but imagining I was able to hear him, instead.
If we were able to journey back in time to the hillsides, shore and mountains along the Sea of Galilee, of course, we wouldn’t understand a word that Jesus was saying.
We’d have to decipher the meaning by listening carefully to the timbre of his voice.
By the look in his eyes toward us as he spoke them.
And from the reaction by those around us who understood the language but were, in many cases, stunned by the meaning of what Jesus was saying.
All of his words were turning the world upside down and inside out in ways that were as unexpectedly hopeful as a second sunrise on a day that had promised only total eclipse.
So, I decided to translate one of The Beatitudes from English into Aramaic. I don’t know how successful I was but I do know the words are genuinely Aramaic. They are the language Jesus spoke every day.
I don’t have a pronunciation guide for the vowels and combinations of consonants, so I guess at the exact sound of the words, just as you may do now:

“wSalxani imassayu latbirai libba tubaihon labile dhinnon itbayun.”

Or: Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.
I have written that sentence at the end of Compline in the Book of Common Prayer by my bedside. I read Compline every night and the last words I speak, quietly but aloud, are those that Jesus spoke.
It is a humble exercise. I only want to ensure that at least once, somewhere in this world, the language of Jesus is heard speaking one of Christ’s sentences of love.
It would be beautiful if you’d join me so that we can become a chorus, speaking the language of love. Jot them down. Put them in your prayer book or Bible. Speak them some time.
Whatever the words say—even if I’ve botched the translation—what they mean to us as we speak them in remembrance of him is all that matters.
And maybe speaking with Jesus’ voice will help us walk those words out into the world with greater strength and purpose in the morning.
I do know that hearing them every night brings Jesus a little closer to me as I turn out the light and let the stars above shine wherever they can to all who are praying in the darkness to hear the voice of Jesus speaking to them.
Jesus answering our own quiet prayer in the suddenly bright night.

The Dust-Shakers

“He said to them, ‘Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.’”

—The Gospel of Mark

At some point in our lives, we’ve all wanted to shake someone’s dust off our feet. Perhaps we are trying to do so at this very moment.
Nobody goes through life without encountering somebody who, in one way or another, doesn’t welcome us and refuses to hear us. Such hurtful encounters can leave us covered in the metaphorical “dust” of that moment.
We come home from work and we bring that dust with us.
We bring the rudeness home.
We bring the refusal to listen.
And we tell our family all about it.
“You would not believe how rude this so-and-so was today!” we report, feeling our tension and anger rise all over again.
That so-and-so isn’t literally at the dinner table with us, but that so-and-so’s dust is all over our feet, so to speak.
In fact, we can sometimes feel like Pig-Pen from the Peanuts comicstrip. Pig-Pen was a mess. A walking cloud of dust and dirt. And we can be just like him.
That so-and-so’s dust isn’t just on the soles of our feet. That so-and-so’s dust covers us from head to foot. It gets on the furniture, embedded in rug fibers, covers the dog, collects on lampshades, dimming the light.
Sometimes, it can even feel like some of it is dusting our soul.
And that’s not good. It’s not what Jesus wanted for his disciples as he sent them out to preach about the kingdom of heaven. And it’s not what Jesus wants for us.
That’s why Jesus gave them—and us—really good advice.
What better way for the disciples to leave an unfriendly place completely behind than by ensuring they don’t carry any part of the unfriendliness with them as they journey forward.
Not even the dust.
But Jesus was talking about more than literal dust. He was talking about that metaphorical dust, too.
Jesus knew from personal experience that someone’s “dust” on our feet can soon feel like “baggage” in our heart, our mind and our soul. A burden we carry around, weighing us down with a whole menagerie of negative emotions.
Who needs that?
It is important to share key moments of our lives with our loved ones. The happy moments of fulfillment and the “dusty” encounters of frustration and disappointment. Doing so can be part of the process of shaking that so-and-so’s dust off our feet.
But it doesn’t work if, in our minds, we turn right back around and walk through that so-and-so’s dust all over again. Which, being human, is so easy to do. Been there. Done that.
But I’d rather be Linus than Pig-Pen.
So, let’s you and I stop lugging that so-and-so’s “baggage” around on a backwards journey.
Let’s shake that dust right off of our feet and keep on moving forward.
Day by day.
Soon enough, our soles will feel the warm, soft touch of green pastures.