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The Wilderness Way

Lawrence Kushner

The wilderness is not just a desert through which we wandered for forty years. It is a way of being. A place that demands being open to the flow of life around you. A place that demands being honest with yourself without regard to the cost in personal anxiety. A place that demands being present with all of yourself.

In the wilderness your possessions cannot surround you. Your preconceptions cannot protect you. Your logic cannot promise you the future. Your guilt can no longer place you safely in the past. You are left alone each day with an immediacy that astonishes, chastens and exults. You see the world as if for the first time.

Source: Eyes Remade for Wonder

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Forty days alone,
a wilderness of thoughts,
tempting and inviting thoughts,
which could so easily have distracted you
from your task, your mission,
your vision.
Yet you emerged, stronger and more attuned
to all that had to be done,
despite a time constraint
that to our eyes would have seemed hopeless.
We too live in stressful times.
Demands are made of our time,
that leave so little
for the important things of life.
We are easily distracted
in the wilderness of our lives,
by every call to go this way or that,
to turn stone to bread
leap from mountains,
and do all that would keep us from the truth.
We listen to the voices of this world,
and ignore the one who endured all this
and so much more,
and emerged triumphant,
that we might not have to suffer so.
Forgive us, Father,
when we get distracted from our task.
Forgive us those times when we try
to be all things to all,
and fail to be anything to anyone

~ Faith and Worship Prayers

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St. Luke’s is a community of people of all ages who seek to see and serve Christ in one another.

We raise children who know themselves to be beloved children of God.

We partner adults in the challenges of living in a demanding world with trust and hope.

We treasure the wisdom of our elders.

We know that Christ’s love is stronger than any barrier human beings can erect.

We celebrate that love in music and sacraments ancient, yet freshly relevant to modern people.

With our time, talent and treasure, we stand with those less fortunate than ourselves.

~ St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Metuchen, NJ

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Thank You

Thank you for catching me
when I took that leap of faith.

You didn’t so much catch me
as allowed me to land
in the place where I fell.

You listened while I talked of flight –

no map
no fuel

only wind
and gravity to guide me.

I closed my eyes and took a leap.

When I opened them and took a look,

you were there.

not anxious
not judging

there.
-Linda Lee

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“In the morning light, O God,
may I glimpse again your image deep within me
the threads of eternal glory
woven into the fabric of every man and woman.

Again may I catch sight of the mystery of the human soul
fashioned in your likeness
deeper than knowing
more enduring than time.

And in glimpsing these threads of light
amidst the weakness and distortions of my life
let me be recalled to the strength and beauty deep in my soul

Let me be recalled
to the strength and beauty of your image in every living thing.”

(from Celtic Benediction, by John Philip Newell, Eerdmans, 2000)

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Sacred Tapestry

Each person

a precious thread

open ended with

creative possiblity

and when linked to others

weaves a community

of beauty –

a sacred tapestry

mirroring heaven.

– Liz Babbs in “Celtic Treasure”

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Remember
that you are made of dust
and you will return to dust.
Remember too
that we are made in the image of God –
male and female,
old and young,
white and all persons of color
and geniuses
and people with attention deficit disorder.

It’s a strange and confusing combination,
this dustiness
and this freedom to love
and to be selfish
and to be afraid
and to know hope
and joy
and wonder.

I don’t need to know all the answers,
but I’d appreciate help remembering
that the Cross and the Resurrection
add a new dimension
and a new promise.
I remember this:
When we “Do this” in remembrance of Him
the dustiness
and God’s image
and my history
walk together,
led by His hand into life.
My life.

It’s a strange business,
this combining of
dust
and
glory.

– William Maxwell

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ASHES TO ALLELUIAS

There is a great and simple mystery to Ash Wednesday. There is nothing so simple as smearing ashes on the forehead of a human being. Yet there is nothing so mysterious as being part of a room full of infants, children, and adults of all ages, all moving voluntarily toward the altar to have their face smeared with the gritty reminder of their mortality. No one escapes, no one demurs, an infant not yet three months old bears the same dark smudge as the oldest of us, long years fluttering about his head like the heavenly chorus.

It is a solemn, strange time. We who normally do all we can to hide ourselves away from the truth of our existence read aloud psalms and confessions, we kneel on unpracticed knees, we blink the ashes of mortality out of our eyelashes and onto our faces. We move through the rest of the day afraid to touch our foreheads as if by smearing that gritty dirt we smear our own existence away. Today we are fragile. And today, while we pondered the immensity of our mortal life, and our fallenness, a child sang.

I am sure his parents were embarrassed, I hope they were amused as well. The chapel recycles old bulletins as coloring paper for seminary kids. And this young boy had gotten a sheet with the gospel Alleluia printed on its reverse side. As we recited psalm 103, as we blessed the ashes of mortality and repentance, his clear little voice sang Alleluia. He sang the short little line of scripture, words of gladness at the promise of new life, and that word we give up for Lent: Alleluia; right through our severity and quiet, right through our ashes and darkness, right through our prayer and sorrow.

Straight through the reminder of the ways we have sinned, and the truth of our inevitable end, his song was Alleluia. The whole gospel story, the whole Christian life condensed into a few short minutes before his parents convinced him to quiet. In those moments we got a peek at heaven, at the Alleluias that roll on and on, through years of sorrow and darkness. The mystery of joy, and rebirth, and new life, and hope out of mortality and sin.

Out of the mouths of babes, the phoenix of joy, the blaze of the Holy Spirit who indeed burns us to dust that we might rise again in glory.

– Christina Josephine Robertson, transitional deacon headed for priesthood – seminary at SSW in Austin, Texas, 2011

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‘Happy Pancake Day’ from the church

 Being Shrove Tuesday, our church, Stour Valley Vineyard Church is taking to the streets to do our Great Big Pancake Giveaway, offering these culinary delights to our town’s office and shop workers, along with the shoppers themselves.

The ‘Great Big GIveaways’ came about after reading American Vineyard Pastor Dave Workman’s book three years ago called The Outward Focused Life, which is all about creating ‘a servant culture in a serve me world’. If you don’t have a copy, buy one.

Today we’ll be out there with our familiar SVV Gazebo, along with camping gas cookers, frying pans and spatulas. This follows on from the other mass giveaways we do, such as hot mince pies at Christmas, bottles of water and juices in the Summer, heart-shaped chocolates on Valentine’s Day and Hot Cross Buns on Palm Sunday.

So why do we do it?

it is part of our expression of what we believe we are called to be: kind to strangers. We are in the Kingdom business of wanting to show a God of kindness and generosity – with no strings attached. We don’t give it a name like evangelism. This is way too loaded and full of over-expectation. However, it is undoubtedly a witness and is making hopefully a postive statement why we do what we do. And we love it.

Of course, we want to see our church grow numerically and spiritually, but if we reduce evangelism to a free pancake on a cold Shrove Tuesday lunchtime it becomes a cheap gimmick and we should be very ashamed of ourselves.

Admittedly, but unbegrudgingly, it does costs us quite of a lot of time, money and energy to do these community events, and if we were looking at these from a business investment perspective I am not that sure we would have many financial backers.

But that’s the Kingdom for you. It often takes the reverse position to point people towards Christ without distraction.

For instance, we see in the gospels the coming of Christ in an unkingly manner born in a dirty stable, the lonely unglamourous death on a Roman cross and the unexpected power of the resurrection. This is not an obvious formula for success. However following Jesus has spawned a worldwide movement, spanning 2,000 years and encompassing a third of the world’s population, as well as still being the fastest growing major faith system.

This makes God’s way very different to the world’s. The Kingdom of God is an upside down way of working. For instance, In our weakness we find strength, we are told the first shall be last and the least shall be great. Whoever wants position must be another’s servant.

So we go out on the streets and do something untriumphantly understated as give out a pancake. However we believe ‘small acts of kindness done with great love’, to quote Mother Teresa, can change the world. And it is within every Christian’s grasp to do it, individually and corporately.

Yes, it means we are have to be sacrificial with our resouces without looking for a return on our investments, otherwise we are not truly being servant-hearted. For some today it will mean booking a day off work, lose a day’s pay or simply getting the courage up to leave the walls of the church building and be seen as a servant of Christ in our community.

So as we prepare to begin Lent tomorrow, on Ash Wednesday, which for many Christians will mean abstention of certain things, may I wish you all a very Happy Pancake Day!

– Andrew Stewart-Darling, Stour Valley Vineyard Church, Sudbury, South Suffolk, England

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God’s Invitation

Lent is a season of being invited by God in a deeply personal way. “Come back to me, with all of your heart,” our Lord beckons. “We will,” we respond, but we aren’t quite ready yet, our hearts are not prepared. We want to squirm, evade, avoid. Our souls not yet perfect. We are not ready for God to love us.

Yes, of course we want to have a deeper relationship with God, we tell ourselves earnestly. And we will….Soon. God calls to us again: Come back to me, with all of your heart.

Ok, ok, I really will. Just a few more things to do at work. Let me spend a little more time in prayer first. Let me get to Reconciliation. Let me clean my oven, tidy my closets. Sell my yoke of oxen. Check a field I have purchased….

Come back to me, with all of your heart.

It is an extraordinary invitation to each one of us. To me in a personal, individual way. God invites me to drop the defenses that I hold up between myself and God. All God wants is for me to realize that my standards, my way of judging and loving are so very different from God’s way, and so much smaller. God offers an entire Lent season, an entire lifetime, of loving me unconditionally, no matter what I have done or how much I think I have hidden from God.

From the first day of Lent, the Ash Wednesday readings make God’s call to us clear: “Return to me with your whole heart.”

“A clean heart create for me, O God,” Psalm 51 offers. “Give me back the joy of your salvation.” That is exactly what our loving God wants to give us, the joy of salvation.

In North America, Lent falls in winter and these days are cold and dark, perfect for hiding ourselves indoors, perfect for hiding from God – or so we imagine. But our God is insistent, loving, gently prodding. God is the parent of the Prodigal Child, waiting faithfully, eagerly on the road for our return, night after night. There are no folded arms and stern judging stares, only the straining eyes of a parent eager for our return, longing to embrace us and rejoice in us.

Yet we spend so much time trying to think of how to return and what to say, how to begin the conversation. It’s only when we finally appear after so much time away, embarrassed and confused, that we understand we don’t have to say anything. We only have to show up.

Look up there on the road ahead of us: our loving God is jumping up and down for joy. The invitation to us has been heard. We have returned home!

But, wait… What stops us from this great reunion? What keeps us from accepting this invitation to something deeper in our lives with God? We feel in our hearts that there are things we should say first: “wait…but…if only” and finally, “If God really knew about me…”

It doesn’t matter. None of it matters. Only the joy that we have turned to God and that like a loving father or mother, God is smothering us with embraces and joyful cries. We have returned!

Come back to me, with all of your heart.

Our acceptance of this call, this appeal to our hearts is simple if we can only get beyond the fear. All we have to do is say to our Lord, “I’m here. Where do I start? Yes, I want to be with you.” Our hearts have been opened and we have taken the first step toward the rejoicing parent on the road. No explanations are necessary, only to pause and picture in our hearts the joyfully loving and unblinking gaze of God that falls on us.

What’s the next step on our journey home? We could take the earliest moments of our day, before we have gotten out of bed to thank God for such a loving invitation and ask for help in opening our hearts to it. We could read about beginning our Lenten patterns. We could remember throughout the day the invitation that has moved our hearts: Come back to me, with all of your heart. And we can rejoice along with God.

That is the invitation of each day of Lent. Today is the day to accept it.

– Creighton University Ministries