Jesus Isn’t Santa Claus

“‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’”

—The Gospel of Mark

By Ken Woodley

When I was a child, I believed in Santa Claus.
I believed in God.
And I believed in Jesus.
I was told by adults that all three of them are real, and I unequivocally believed what I was told.
There was no doubt in my mind, or in my heart, of their existence.
When I was a child, all three of them were as real as real can be.
For years, I believed that all three of them genuinely existed. I clung to that faith long after many of my friends had peeled away the veneer and discovered the fiction behind it all.
Eventually, I grew up, and also accepted the truth that I’d been trying to avoid.
I learned that Santa Claus lives in our hearts.
But that is all. That is the only place where Santa Claus resides. The North Pole is a frozen wasteland. None of the animals there have red noses. Only the wind-chilled scientists and explorers have red noses, and none of them guide Santa’s sleigh.
As an adult, I have also grown to understand that God, too, lives within our hearts. Or can reside there.
As does Jesus. If we let him.
But—and this is a gloriously hallelujah ‘but’—that is not all.
That is not the only place.
God is real.
Jesus is real.
Both of them genuinely exist whether I let them live in my heart or not.
I simply know that to be true.
I believe it to be true.
Nor do I feel compelled to prove it to anyone in order to reinforce my own faith. But there is still plenty of evidence.
The existence of God and the risen Jesus are demonstrably proved by the post-crucifixion turnaround in the disciples, from cowering cowards to bold preachers who feared nothing for their physical safety.
Only a genuine encounter with the resurrected Jesus can account for that. And Jesus can only exist as our resurrected savior if God exists. Therefore, the fact of Christ confirms the fact of God, and a loving God, at that.
Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, transforming him from a murderer of Christians—an accessory before, during and after the fact—to an obsessed disciple of Christ, is another stunning piece of forensic evidence.
Nor are those two examples the only New Testament “exhibits” one could place before any jury that doubts the existence of God and Christ.
But I have also had enough “thin moments” and “close encounters” with the Holy Spirit, and with Jesus (therefore with God, as well) to personally cement my faith.
And I accept those “thin moments” as genuine encounters, as a child would accept Santa Claus, sitting on his lap at the mall. I do not look cynically for any other “explanation” that might seem more rational to an adult mind.
One moment, on July 2, 1980, was so intimate—beyond “thin”—that it felt like nothing at all was separating me from the love of God, the Love that is God, of which Jesus spoke.
I was driving home from a Buckingham County School Board meeting—wrestling with a profound years-old wound—and had to pull off to the side of the road, sobbing with joy. That Loving Presence embraced me for hours.
Such a moment hasn’t happened again but it has been enough to sustain me with the truth about God’s Love. And that helps me to keep rising above that wound.
I know that I can pull on the beard of Christ as hard as I want but it isn’t coming off. He’s no seasonal, moonlighting phony.
The kingdom of Heaven is real.
Waiting for us to enter.
And so transform the world through our own individual, intimate and ongoing transformation.

“‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’”

—The Gospel of Mark

By Ken Woodley

When I was a child, I believed in Santa Claus.
I believed in God.
And I believed in Jesus.
I was told by adults that all three of them are real, and I unequivocally believed what I was told.
There was no doubt in my mind, or in my heart, of their existence.
When I was a child, all three of them were as real as real can be.
For years, I believed that all three of them genuinely existed. I clung to that faith long after many of my friends had peeled away the veneer and discovered the fiction behind it all.
Eventually, I grew up, and also accepted the truth that I’d been trying to avoid.
I learned that Santa Claus lives in our hearts.
But that is all. That is the only place where Santa Claus resides. The North Pole is a frozen wasteland. None of the animals there have red noses. Only the wind-chilled scientists and explorers have red noses, and none of them guide Santa’s sleigh.
As an adult, I have also grown to understand that God, too, lives within our hearts. Or can reside there.
As does Jesus. If we let him.
But—and this is a gloriously hallelujah ‘but’—that is not all.
That is not the only place.
God is real.
Jesus is real.
Both of them genuinely exist whether I let them live in my heart or not.
I simply know that to be true.
I believe it to be true.
Nor do I feel compelled to prove it to anyone in order to reinforce my own faith. But there is still plenty of evidence.
The existence of God and the risen Jesus are demonstrably proved by the post-crucifixion turnaround in the disciples, from cowering cowards to bold preachers who feared nothing for their physical safety.
Only a genuine encounter with the resurrected Jesus can account for that. And Jesus can only exist as our resurrected savior if God exists. Therefore, the fact of Christ confirms the fact of God, and a loving God, at that.
Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, transforming him from a murderer of Christians—an accessory before, during and after the fact—to an obsessed disciple of Christ, is another stunning piece of forensic evidence.
Nor are those two examples the only New Testament “exhibits” one could place before any jury that doubts the existence of God and Christ.
But I have also had enough “thin moments” and “close encounters” with the Holy Spirit, and with Jesus (therefore with God, as well) to personally cement my faith.
And I accept those “thin moments” as genuine encounters, as a child would accept Santa Claus, sitting on his lap at the mall. I do not look cynically for any other “explanation” that might seem more rational to an adult mind.
One moment, on July 2, 1980, was so intimate—beyond “thin”—that it felt like nothing at all was separating me from the love of God, the Love that is God, of which Jesus spoke.
I was driving home from a Buckingham County School Board meeting—wrestling with a profound years-old wound—and had to pull off to the side of road, sobbing with joy. That Loving Presence embraced me for hours.
Such a moment hasn’t happened again but it has been enough to sustain me with the truth about God’s Love. And that helps me to keep rising above that wound.
I know that I can pull on the beard of Christ as hard as I want but it isn’t coming off. He’s no seasonal, moonlighting phony.
The kingdom of Heaven is real.
Waiting for us enter.
And so transform the world through our own individual, intimate and ongoing transformation.





Seeing The Light Before We Open Our Eyes

“Are any among you suffering? They should pray … The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up … The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective…”

—The Epistle of James

By Ken Woodley

Life can sometimes make us feel as if we’ve suddenly been caught in an avalanche or a collapsed mineshaft.
We’re buried miles away from our former happiness.
Our former understanding of the world.
Perhaps even our faith, as we remember it.
We’re nearly suffocating in the darkness and the doubts.
Unable to reach the light of day.
Despair and a sense of helplessness toss dice to see which one wins us for its own.
But we are not helpless and should not despair for longer than it takes to find the gleam of truth in our souls.
Nor are we abandoned and alone.
Prayer is the tool we can use to dig our way out.
Every prayer.
Each day.
All of our spoken and silent words of prayer can tunnel through the layers of darkness that cover us just as if we’d literally been trapped in an avalanche or a mineshaft that had given way.
“The Lord is my shepherd…”
And we penetrate a little further toward the light.
“Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…”
And we dig ourselves a bit closer to the fresh air that we were breathing only yesterday.
“I will fear no evil…”
And now the Holy Spirit can feel us praying.
“Because you are with me…”
God knows where we are and what has happened, and why would we ever think that God doesn’t pray? And Jesus too.
Digging down toward our words of faith.
So we must keep praying so they can reach us.
Praying and believing that they will.
It is too easy for some people to dismiss prayer as merely a ritual. And, truthfully, mindlessly repeating the same words over and over every day does rob them of their power.
True prayer can be far more than that. And it can be all of one single word. Faithfully repeating “Jesus” can both calm my inner storm and connect me with the Holy Spirit. Pick a word or phrase of your own and use it to hammer upward toward the light.
The words in the Epistle are powerful reminders of the true power of real prayer—the prayer, as James tells us, “of faith.”
James is speaking to us as a compelling firsthand witness of what the early church experienced through faith-filled prayer after the death and resurrection of Jesus.
There is no avalanche too heavy.
James knew this.
And no mine shaft too deep.
Do we understand everything about prayer and how it works? No, not at all. I suspect we never shall.
But that is what makes the prayer of faith so powerful. It is all about faith, rather than possessing the blueprints about how everything works.
Faith that taps into the deepest recesses of our soul and connects us to the power of God’s love and grace.
When that happens, the light finds us before we even see it with our eyes.

“Are any among you suffering? They should pray … The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up … The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective…”

—The Epistle of James

By Ken Woodley

Life can sometimes make us feel as if we’ve suddenly been caught in an avalanche or a collapsed mineshaft.
We’re buried miles away from our former happiness.
Our former understanding of the world.
Perhaps even our faith, as remember it.
We’re nearly suffocating in the darkness and the doubts.
Unable to reach the light of day.
Despair and a sense of helplessness toss dice to see which one wins us for its own.
But we are not helpless and should not despair for longer than it takes to find the gleam of truth in our souls.
Nor are we abandoned and alone.
Prayer is the tool we can use to dig our way out.
Every prayer.
Each day.
All of our spoken and silent words of prayer can tunnel through the layers of darkness that cover us just as if we’d literally been trapped in an avalanche or a mineshaft that had given way.
“The Lord is my shepherd…”
And we penetrate a little further toward the light.
“Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…”
And we dig ourselves a bit closer to the fresh air that we were breathing only yesterday.
“I will fear no evil…”
And now the Holy Spirit can feel us praying.
“Because you are with me…”
God knows where we are and what has happened, and why would we ever think that God doesn’t pray? And Jesus too.
Digging down toward our words of faith.
So we must keep praying so they can reach us.
Praying and believing that they will.
It is too easy for some people to dismiss prayer as merely a ritual. And, truthfully, mindlessly repeating the same words over and over every day does rob them of their power.
True prayer can be far more than that. And it can be all of one single word. Faithfully repeating “Jesus” can both calm my inner storm and connect me with the Holy Spirit. Pick a word or phrase of your own and use it to hammer upward toward the light.
The words in the Epistle are powerful reminders of the true power of real prayer—the prayer, as James tells us, “of faith.”
James is speaking to us as a compelling firsthand witness of what the early church experienced through faith-filled prayer after the death and resurrection of Jesus.
There is no avalanche too heavy.
James knew this.
And no mineshaft too deep.
Do we understand everything about prayer and how it works? No, not at all. I suspect we never shall.
But that is what makes the prayer of faith so powerful. It is all about faith, rather than possessing the blueprints about how everything works.
Faith that taps into the deepest recesses of our soul and connects us to the power of God’s love and grace.
When that happens, the light finds us before we even see it with our eyes.












The 24-7 Diner

“Taste and see that the Lord is good.”

—Psalm 34:8

By Ken Woodley

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.
It’s all-you-can-eat and…
“…All that you can share.”
And these aren’t crumbs off the table.
None of us are dogs.
We are all children of God.
Each of us loved just as we are.
Unconditionally.

“Taste and see that the Lord is good.”

—Psalm 34:8

By Ken Woodley

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.
It’s all-you-can-eat and…
“…All that you can share.”
And these aren’t crumbs off the table.
None of us are dogs.
We are all children of God.
Each of us loved just as we are.
Unconditionally.



Unsung Hero

Gleaning In The Fields Of Light

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

By Ken Woodley

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 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 very 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.
Or, equally possible, Jesus might not have had to say a word. The boy’s heart was clearly opened to any possibility because he had come to see Jesus. So perhaps he simply stepped forward and offered all he had.
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.

“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

By Ken Woodley

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 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 very 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.
Or, equally possible, Jesus might not have had to say a word. The boy’s heart was clearly opened to any possibility because he had come to see Jesus. So perhaps he simply stepped forward and offered all he had.
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.




















Leaving IT All Behind

Gleaning In The Fields Of Light

Leaving IT All Behind

“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

By Ken Woodley

The apostles’ energy reserves were drained to the dregs. 

And even the dregs had nothing left to give.

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. They never faced that temptation.

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. And your iPads. Laptops, too. 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 the technological world off and leave it behind. Without the its siren song, we can better hear the small, quiet voice of the Holy Spirit in our soul.

And therefore bring it back with us into the world when our rest is done, ready for where the Holy Spirit next guides our footsteps.

By Ken Woodley

“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

By Ken Woodley
The apostles’ energy reserves were drained to the dregs.
And even the dregs had nothing left to give.
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. They never faced that temptation.
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. And your iPads. Laptops, too. 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 the technological world off and leave it behind. Without the its siren song, we can better hear the small, quiet voice of the Holy Spirit in our soul.
And therefore bring it back with us into the world when our rest is done, ready for where the Holy Spirit next guides our footsteps.



The Language Of Love

By Ken Woodley

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.

By Ken Woodley

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.


Shaking More Than Dust From Our Feet

“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

By Ken Woodley
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.


“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

By Ken Woodley
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.

Yes, It Is

“A crowd was sitting around him and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside asking for you.’ And he replied, ‘Who are my mothers and my brothers?’ And looking at those who were around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers.’”

—The Gospel of Mark

By Ken Woodley

The most wonderful thing might just be that we are never alone in this world.
Even when we’re all by ourselves.
Perhaps most especially when the solitude seems to be all that’s left.
In fact, our loneliness might just bring us closer to the one who never leaves our side.
No, we don’t see our brother.
And the world is so crazy and filled with so much noise and flashing distractions that we don’t often feel his presence unless we do find a quiet corner of our soul to pull a chair up beside him.
Or a tree to lean against together.
A moment looking out the window at the sunrise.
The sunset.
Or the utter darkness of midnight when the moon feels gone.
But our brother is there.
When we open our hearts, we find he’s never, ever left us.
It’s only us who lose track of him amid the roiling boil of emotions that can mask the sublime peace of his presence.
And, in our humanity, sometimes we seem to want to embrace an emotion that has nothing to do with that peace that passes all understanding.
We’d much rather be angry.
We’d rather be hurt.
Pinned down by a grudge.
Filled with a joy that can’t possibly last.
Tuned into the latest insane news story in a world that too often feels like an asylum.
But our brother is there beside us.
Even in the madhouse.
Especially in the despair of compassion falling apart in this corner of the world and being blown apart in that corner over there.
Our brother is waiting for us to realize that he is there.
Always has been.
Ever shall be.
Moonlight that never wanes.
A midnight sun.
The aurora borealis in our soul.
Vesper whispers at dawn.
Sunrise sanctuary in the gloaming.
The slightest touch on our shoulder that might have been a gentle breeze.
Was it really him?
Yes, it was.
Jesus.

Love Is The Letter And The Spirit Of The Law

“Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, ‘Come forward … Stretch out your hand.’”

—The Gospel of Mark

By Ken Woodley

The letter of the law never meant very much to Jesus. He was interested in the spirit behind the letters spelling out the “do’s and don’ts.”
Far too many exponents of the letter of the law carry a set of keys around inside their head. Keys that lock their heart up tightly.
Keys they use to try and lock up the spirit of the law by putting it behind the bars of the letter of the law.
But heartless laws must be questioned, challenged and, if necessary, disobeyed when a situation demands it until such laws are changed or removed entirely.
Jesus believed this moment in the synagogue demanded it and so he honored and obeyed the spirit of the law, rather than obeying the dictates of those who seek to assert human control over God’s love and healing grace.
It was the right thing to do, of course.
There are speed limits set for all of our roads and highways but emergency responders, such as the police, routinely break speed limit laws if the situation demands it.
Jesus was all about speeding God’s healing love to everyone who needed it. He had the pedal to the metal in the synagogue that day.
Civil disobedience has an honored history in our nation, and in other parts of the world.
Slavery used to be the law in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Abolitionists operating the Underground Railroad to help slaves escape to relative freedom in the North would have felt Jesus by their side.
“White’s only” Jim Crow segregation soon followed the end of slavery. Those laws, with their evil letter and diabolical spirit, deserved to be broken. Jesus would have sat at lunch counters with African Americans.
Our nation, itself, was founded on disobedience and finally open rebellion against both the letter and the spirit of unjust laws.
I can’t imagine Jesus tossing crates of tea into Boston Harbor but I can see him giving his life to affirm that all people are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.
God’s love isn’t measured out in teaspoons and tablespoons by dispensary doctors of the law. Jesus demonstrates that truth over and over again.
The Holy Spirit is always urging us to “Come forward” with whatever feels withered in our lives.
If we truly stretch out our souls a healing answer will come. It may not always cure but it will provide healing.
Nor will the answer always be in the exact way, shape or form that we wish. It often arrives in other raiment and will likely be what God knows we desperately need more than what we passionately want.
I have learned that it’s best not to answer our own prayers by putting words into God’s mouth, something I have done too many times in my life. I’ve come to realize that I can, in all good faith and sincerity, mistake my own hopeful anticipation as a promise from God.
But, I have also learned to trust that an answer will come and that God will be with us as that answer unfolds in our lives.
The Holy Spirit will point us toward the North Star and tell us to keep going in that direction to escape whatever it is that enslaves any portion of our lives or makes us feel segregated from God’s love.
We can faithfully follow Jesus’ advice and “stretch out” to the Lord, confident that he is already stretching out to us.
And have no fear. If Jesus believes it is necessary to break the speed limit to reach us in time, he will.

“Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, ‘Come forward … Stretch out your hand.’”

—The Gospel of Mark

By Ken Woodley

The letter of the law never meant very much to Jesus. He was interested in the spirit behind the letters spelling out the “do’s and don’ts.”
Far too many exponents of the letter of the law carry a set of keys around inside their head. Keys that lock their heart up tightly.
Keys they use to try and lock up the spirit of the law by putting it behind the bars of the letter of the law.
But heartless laws must be questioned, challenged and, if necessary, disobeyed when a situation demands it until such laws are changed or removed entirely.
Jesus believed this moment in the synagogue demanded it and so he honored and obeyed the spirit of the law, rather than obeying the dictates of those who seek to assert human control over God’s love and healing grace.
It was the right thing to do, of course.
There are speed limits set for all of our roads and highways but emergency responders, such as the police, routinely break speed limit laws if the situation demands it.
Jesus was all about speeding God’s healing love to everyone who needed it. He had the pedal to the metal in the synagogue that day.
Civil disobedience has an honored history in our nation, and in other parts of the world.
Slavery used to be the law in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Abolitionists operating the Underground Railroad to help slaves escape to relative freedom in the North would have felt Jesus by their side.
“White’s only” Jim Crow segregation soon followed the end of slavery. Those laws, with their evil letter and diabolical spirit, deserved to be broken. Jesus would have sat at lunch counters with African Americans.
Our nation, itself, was founded on disobedience and finally open rebellion against both the letter and the spirit of unjust laws.
I can’t imagine Jesus tossing crates of tea into Boston Harbor but I can see him giving his life to affirm that all people are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.
God’s love isn’t measured out in teaspoons and tablespoons by dispensary doctors of the law. Jesus demonstrates that truth over and over again.
The Holy Spirit is always urging us to “Come forward” with whatever feels withered in our lives.
If we truly stretch out our souls a healing answer will come. It may not always cure but it will provide healing.
Nor will the answer always be in the exact way, shape or form that we wish. It often arrives in other raiment and will likely be what God knows we desperately need more than what we passionately want.
I have learned that it’s best not to answer our own prayers by putting words into God’s mouth, something I have done too many times in my life. I’ve come to realize that I can, in all good faith and sincerity, mistake my own hopeful anticipation as a promise from God.
But, I have also learned to trust that an answer will come and that God will be with us as that answer unfolds in our lives.
The Holy Spirit will point us toward the North Star and tell us to keep going in that direction to escape whatever it is that enslaves any portion of our lives or makes us feel segregated from God’s love.
We can faithfully follow Jesus’ advice and “stretch out” to the Lord, confident that he is already stretching out to us.
And have no fear. If Jesus believes it is necessary to break the speed limit to reach us in time, he will.

The Voice Of The Morning Wind

By Ken Woodley

“You must be born from above. The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

—The Gospel of John

We heard the wind blowing in the tops of the trees at the dawning of this new day.
A vast sea of breeze skimming along the bottom of the sky.
The leaves reaching for the passing skirt of the wind as it skipped along the uppermost limbs and branches.
We stood in the greening shadows of a night that lingered but could no longer grip its darkness.
Alone and wondering beneath the trees.
Wondering what we might find as we followed the Galilean words that had led us here.
If only the wind—and he—could reach us, we said, though we knew he could not hear us.
If only it would touch us, let us taste its spirit.
If only we could feel its soft caress of love.
We took a few steps and heard a shepherd’s bell ring.
A note of soft beauty.
But we saw no lambs at all.
There was only us.
And then it happened.
The wind was all around.
Whispered something in our ears.
The wind wanted us.
Desired all of us.
No matter what.
“I give myself to you entirely,” we heard the wind declare.
And we knew that it was true because we felt it filling every pore.
As if the sky were wrapping us up with the ribbons and bows of heaven.
Oh, wondrous gift.
But the wind was not alone.
“Raise your eyes, my beloved ones,” the wind told us.
So we did.
The light of a new day dawning was brush-stroking the tops of the trees.
“Touch the light. I brought it here with me for you,” the wind urged.
“But we cannot possibly reach such heights,” we protested, raising our arms in sheer futility.
We felt the wind smiling. “Lift your spirit up to the Lord. Lift your heart and raise your soul,” we heard it say. “That is where the light will find you, as if you were the tallest tree that ever grew from the earth.”
And the light did find us.
The light becoming one with the wind.
The windy light brushing through our own leaves.
The sun shining right down to our deepest roots.
Newly born in this shimmering forest of our souls.
A symphony of shepherd’s bells caroling in our hearts as we feel a hand upon our shoulder.
“This way,” we hear you say with the voice of the morning wind in the sun-dappled trees.
And then suddenly we are alone.
Clinging to the memory.
And its meaning.
Beneath the stillness of the trees.
Our souls still rustling.

By Ken Woodley

“You must be born from above. The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

—The Gospel of John

We heard the wind blowing in the tops of the trees at the dawning of this new day.
A vast sea of breeze skimming along the bottom of the sky.
The leaves reaching for the passing skirt of the wind as it skipped along the uppermost limbs and branches.
We stood in the greening shadows of a night that lingered but could no longer grip its darkness.
Alone and wondering beneath the trees.
Wondering what we might find as we followed the Galilean words that had led us here.
If only the wind—and he—could reach us, we said, though we knew he could not hear us.
If only it would touch us, let us taste its spirit.
If only we could feel its soft caress of love.
We took a few steps and heard a shepherd’s bell ring.
A note of soft beauty.
But we saw no lambs at all.
There was only us.
And then it happened.
The wind was all around.
Whispered something in our ears.
The wind wanted us.
Desired all of us.
No matter what.
“I give myself to you entirely,” we heard the wind declare.
And we knew that it was true because we felt it filling every pore.
As if the sky were wrapping us up with the ribbons and bows of heaven.
Oh, wondrous gift.
But the wind was not alone.
“Raise your eyes, my beloved ones,” the wind told us.
So we did.
The light of a new day dawning was brush-stroking the tops of the trees.
“Touch the light. I brought it here with me for you,” the wind urged.
“But we cannot possibly reach such heights,” we protested, raising our arms in sheer futility.
We felt the wind smiling. “Lift your spirit up to the Lord. Lift your heart and raise your soul,” we heard it say. “That is where the light will find you, as if you were the tallest tree that ever grew from the earth.”
And the light did find us.
The light becoming one with the wind.
The windy light brushing through our own leaves.
The sun shining right down to our deepest roots.
Newly born in this shimmering forest of our souls.
A symphony of shepherd’s bells caroling in our hearts as we feel a hand upon our shoulder.
“This way,” we hear you say with the voice of the morning wind in the sun-dappled trees.
And then suddenly we are alone.
Clinging to the memory.
And its meaning.
Beneath the stillness of the trees.
Our souls still rustling.