O Incomprehensible One

O Incomprehensible One,
you have taken the sharp knife of this life
and hollowed me out.
Scraped my insides.
Everything taken. Scoured. Empty.
You have punched holes in me
in painful places.
Helpless.
The wind blows through me.

And what is this?
Flute music!
             -Steve Garnaas-Holmes

Ah, flute music. “Really, God, that’s the way the music happens?” It’s the cry and joy of my life to experience the emptying that takes place as a result of pain. The cry comes from the act of scouring that grates, rubs, bruises my soul. Yet, as a result of the pain, joy comes in the music that plays through my holes. It’s not usually right away. In fact, I’m not sure the joy ever is immediate. Instead it comes after the place of helplessness. In that long waiting pause between punched holes and wind blowing, I often wonder if there will ever be music.

It’s not unlike the waiting we’re experiencing during Lent. From the dust-to-dust reality of Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday, it’s a long pause. An ongoing of emptying more, and then some more, and then even more. Will there ever be music again? Will there be a place of celebration for new life?

How do I wait there? Part hope from previous times where new life showed up. Part discipline by abiding in the container of Lent that sustains me with grace. And finally, part trust in the Incomprehensible God who has never failed me yet. I’m reminded in this space that all I can pray is what Teresa of Avila prayed: “Oh God, I don’t love, I don’t even want to love, but I want to want to love you!” That’s how I wait for the music.

by Sandy Shipman
Selah Companion and Flute Player

Jumping Into Lent

Full disclosure, I don’t really get Lent. Perhaps it comes from being raised in the Church of Christ where there were no holy days other than the Lord’s Day. The communion song, “This we do each Lord’s day, as Christ has said…” reverberates in my brain as I write. We didn’t follow the church calendar, celebrating Christmas and Easter very minimally at home, my parents’ appeasement to their children but don’t tell anyone at church. Or perhaps it’s my Enneagram Seven-ness: if you can avoid pain, you should avoid pain. Reading about the Crucifixion and participating in Lenten activities never really caught on with me. Writing about it is a stretch.

At a dinner party during the season, several people declined certain indulgent foods or beverages due to Lent. It got me thinking. First, I didn’t even know it was Lent. Second, I wondered if there was something wrong with my Christian-ness, my theology, with me. Why was I always so different, so other from people I knew and respected? Why was I always standing a little outside the mainstream rules and procedures?

I started thinking about what the cross meant. Which got me thinking a lot about grace and how I respond to mistakes. Last week, on a mountaintop in the dark, I made some mistakes that could have been life threatening. It was a scary situation. We all made it down alive and well, but the errors in judgment stayed with me. I found myself wanting to confess to everyone, but fearing the consequences, the punishment, the restrictions that might ensue, I kept the confession silent.

While I prayed on the mountain and on the way down, and shouted a final exclamation of gratitude at the bottom, I had pretty much ignored God after that. I didn’t want the lecture. As my backpack got heavier and heavier that night, so did this burden of guilt and responsibility.

About to shatter under the weight, I went to my friend and told her I needed to confess. I needed accountability. She listened to my whole, ugly story. I waited for judgement. Our Fathers and Hail Marys perhaps. Sacrifice a bull. Confess your sins in front of the congregation and be shunned. Carry a cross. Something.

And where two or more are gathered, I knew God was listening in. Of course, He knew. Of course. My hands instinctively slid to my backside to await the spanking.

You readers of the Lenten series know what came next. You know my friend and have experienced her grace. You know Jesus and have experienced His grace. The big arms-stretched-wide embrace of Love. Come home.

As I write, I cannot think of one time when I confessed to God and received anything but open arms. Not one time. I can tell you hundreds of times I delayed going to God because I expected punishment. And thousands of times I have judged others and invoked or wished harsh consequences on them. Yet my Lord, never once, has done the same to me. Lessons to learn, sure. Growth to be had, yes. Natural consequences, sometimes, but less than you’d predict. Always, open arms. Come home.

I’m thinking I might jump into this whole Lent thing and try giving up this delicacy of judgement. Focus on the healthy diet of love and forgiveness. Live in the gift. Maybe try it out after Lent too. After Easter, until Christmas, and again. Still.

Last night I went to a performance by Rona Yellowrobe, a Native American Flute player, singer, and storyteller, and her guitar playing partner, Bruce Witham. You can imagine how the two instruments go together nicely. Native American flute players do not use music or study notes. The music comes from the heart. Players may learn songs and repeat them, but the music is not written down, and can change as the spirit moves. It was beautiful. Bruce also plays the cello. Cello music is defined, written down, procedural. It comes from a composer—until Rona and Bruce get together, then the experience is magical.

To add to the glory of the evening, an accomplished harmonica player, Eric Brown, joined the duo. Bruce switched to blues guitar, and flute, harmonica, and guitar jammed like there was no tomorrow. There was only now. Musical mindfulness. Hallelujah and Amen. Turns out, Eric had never met either Rona or Bruce before stepping to the stage. Three distinct, disconnected instruments and musicians transfixing their audience with joy, a little outside mainstream rules and procedures.

And then the gift. The audience was invited to join in with singing the chorus of the song, “Get Together.” Separate instruments, voices, lives, beliefs, all praising, pleading together. The spontaneous and the designed. The weight and the grace. The Cross and the Resurrection.

Come on, people now

Smile on your brother

Everybody get together

Try to love one another right now.

Right now.

Right now.

—by Sandy Shipman
Selah Community

Embodied

The Word was God
And EVERYTHING was created
Through Him.

He chose to become embodied, as fertilized egg, embryo, and baby,

To limit Himself

And know what it means to be human.
Human like you and me.

Bodies precious as He formed male and female and declared them very good.

A body, a person as He was born
In this world: Jesus, Emmanuel!

Growing, playing, skinning knees, teasing siblings, celebrating Shabbat…

Parents, who loved God and His Word,

Imparting it to their eldest son and each child added to the family,

As important to them as every breath,
God’s scripture written on their hearts!

Apprenticeship with wood, skilled carpenter, provider to his family when Joseph died.

He knew the joys and sorrows of our everyday lives.

At the right time,
He was called to His ministry

To choose disciples, to teach and show us His Father, to touch bodies, and heal,
This man, who walked many miles, knew hunger and thirst,
Joy, sorrow, frustration, every emotion, just like you and me.

Beaten, humiliated, dying on a cross.

Dead and buried, and raised again through God’s power of resurrection.

Through the Holy Spirit, He lives in us.
Our bodies’ holy temples where He delights to dwell!
Every inch of us sacred, uniquely expressing aspects of God’s character.

We are His precious embodied people.

Kathleen Heppell
April 2019

On Wilderness: Testing or Temptation?

Sharing a reflection from Selah’s friend and former board treasurer, Lisa Veitenhans:

Eugene Peterson wrote, “… we see Jesus as the way we come to God. Jesus is also the way God comes to us.”

He also threw out a couple more zingers in this particular sermon (see below), comparing being in the wilderness for 40 days as being more like time in Eden and the nuance of the original language offering a coin flip definition of “Testing-Temptation,” with testing being something you do to confirm that something works and temptation being something that wants failure.

Imagine that our loving Lord comes to you and says, “Come with me to the quiet places where we can be totally together, free from distraction. You’ll leave all your regular duties, and comforts, behind, but don’t worry, you’ll be completely cared for, even by Wilderness itself. What will happen? Intense learning? Yes! Beauty? Beyond what you can imagine! Clarity? When distraction is gone, purpose will become clear. When we are done you’ll be ready to take the test.”

I would say, “Test? What test? Can’t we just go along together forever as we are?” Isn’t that how we want things to be? Sun shining, hearts smiling, comfort abounding places are so lovely! But that isn’t the way life actually happens (at least not yet). Sometimes we must have challenges. New challenges focus my attention, whether I want it to or not.

The first time I looked at the wilderness as more of an invitation to Eden than a pass/fail walk into some punishment, I felt my shoulders drop. My anxiety about failing God and not being able to resist temptation had always felt overwhelming. “Will I remember all the scriptures I need? Will I fail in the final second?” But this other way of looking at Testing-Temptation… I thought of a favorite teacher, who handed out the year end test, winking at me. He knew I would pass with flying colors in spite of my nerves because he knew me well enough to know I was ready. God knows our readiness much better than we do. So maybe the Testing- Temptation is more for us to know we are ready.

Peterson also says, “However necessary the wilderness is, it is temporary, an in-between time, and a place not intended to characterize an entire life. Wilderness life is a strenuous life. It cannot be endured indefinitely.”

But it can be endured for 40 days. Welcome to Lent. May each of us Christians all over this globe with all our forms and ways enter our little wildernesses where God meets us, prepares us and blesses us with his presence and love.

— As Kingfishers Catch Fire: A Conversation on the Ways of God Formed by the Words of God by Eugene H. Peterson
https://a.co/iyEAzA7

Frank D. Getty

The message of Easter cannot be written past tense.

It is a message for today and the days to come.

It is God’s message which must re-echo through your lives.

 

Frank D. Getty

Thoughts in Silence

MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going.

I do not see the road ahead of me.

I cannot know for certain where it will end.

Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.

And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.

I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.

And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.

I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Thomas Merton

submitted by Doreen Olson
Selah Community

Merton, Thomas. “Thoughts in Solitude,”
NY, NY: The Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani. 1956

Keeping a Holy Lent

Create in me a beautiful heart, O God,
and put a new and faithful spirit within me

 

Joel 2:12-14

12 But there’s also this, it’s not too late—

God’s personal Message!—

“Come back to me and really mean it!

Come fasting and weeping, sorry for your sins!”

13-14 Change your life, not just your clothes.

Come back to God, your God.

And here’s why: God is kind and merciful.

He takes a deep breath, puts up with a lot,

This most patient God, extravagant in love,

always ready to cancel catastrophe.

Who knows? Maybe he’ll do it now,

maybe he’ll turn around and show pity.

Maybe, when all’s said and done,

there’ll be blessings full and robust for your God!

The Message Bible


Ashes

 

Take all of who I am,

the me-ness of me,

what makes me who I am,

the special, the unique,

the brilliant and the unpardonable,

all I’m so proud of, and so ashamed,

that I’ve worked so hard to fashion,

that I’m still working on,

what I can’t part with

because there wouldn’t be

anything left of me—

take it.

Take it.

I lay it in your hands.

Gather it into yourself,

into your dark, generous mystery,

and in the flame of your creating heart

burn it.

Then into the dust and ashes

breathe your breath,

and with gratitude

I will receive

who rises

when in your grace

you give me anew.

Steve Garnass-Holmes

 

Steve Garnaas-Holmes,
www.unfoldinglight.net
Used with permission.

A Light Hold

 

Strangely
after years of more
clutching, grasping, weaving, planting –
more insisting all remains –
blew a gentle breeze inviting
something else for tired hands:
A light hold.

Ego’s habits railed and thrust
persistent drives and cloudy ruse,
surroundings also reinforced
resisting change, remaining closed –
and yet my heart pulsed life, real life,
open, curious, present, now:
A light hold.

Oh, the risk of loss and change.
Oh, how awkward not to hold
tightly as I have before.
What if suddenly I find
nothing – just nothing – for these hands?

Holding lightly feels like limbo,
unsupported, almost painful,
weak, unstable, vague somehow,
and yet that gentle breeze insists
hope and wonder, pause and rest.

A light hold needs not manufacture,
not exert undue efforts.
A light hold checks my expectations;
A light hold bids simple and less;
A light hold honors what is present,
receives all shapes, attends with love;
A light hold echoes deeper trust –
my hands do not form this life.
All they do as best they can
is hold this lightly,
savor,
share,
believe.

by John Kiemele
Selah Community

 

The Lenten Desert

Led by the Spirit of God,
you will be united intimately
with a global multitude of Lenten Pilgrims.

As your Lenten prayers and works
will influence their Easter pilgrimage,
so, likewise, their prayers and deeds
will influence yours,
as together we are reformed and renewed
during these Desert Days of Lent.

A Blessed and Grace-filled Lenten Pilgrimage
and a Joyous Feast of Easter.

Edward Hays
priest, author, storyteller, artist
1931-2016

From Craving to Longing

After hearing these words from God the Father “This is my Son, chosen and marked by my love, delight of my life,” [1] Jesus leaves the place of his baptism to enter into the wilderness (also known as the desert). From a place of abundant public belovedness to the quiet and solitary dismantling of all that is more easily relied upon, namely food and comfort, Jesus moves toward the unknown in his desire to hear God’s voice.

Speaking of food, because it is definitely on my mind, my husband, Bill, and I are doing the Whole30 nutritional plan to address some health goals while eliminating those foods that tend to create more cravings and addictions. We’re in the phrase where all I can think about is what I’m not eating, and wishing I could. It happens that our decision coincides with Lent which helps in the motivation to join Jesus in his fasting while in the desert.

However, I’m not so sure I have the same attitude as Jesus. While I would like to hear God’s voice, all I can hear right now are my cravings for foods that don’t really satisfy over time. Craving by definition is a “powerful desire for.” As I admit the reality of my cravings, I find some comfort in realizing that it’s not that far off from what Jesus was having as a craving, only his was to be in communion by intentionally being present to God through solitude and silence in his fasting. He lives into his powerful desire to be with God the Father and Creator of all.

I’m wandering and wondering through my own wilderness of giving up foods that I normally enjoy about what a craving, or even deeper, a longing means to be in communion with God. It is here that I turn to the book In the Name of Jesus by Henri Nouwen where he describes the first test of Jesus in the desert. Jesus faces the first test of three temptations from the Devil who says “[s]ince you are God’s Son, speak the word that will turn these stones into loaves of bread. Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy: ‘It takes more than bread to stay alive. It takes a steady stream of words from God’s mouth.’ ”[2]

Nouwen relates how the Devil appeals to the desire we have to be able to fix what’s immediately in front of us, to choose those things that make the most sense for the situation we’re in. If you’re hungry and you have the capacity to make food, why not change stones into bread? Make things right that need to be made right.

But Nouwen addresses something deeper than the seemingly obvious need of food. What’s the motivation behind wanting to make things right in that very moment, touching the chord of our humanity to do what we can as soon as we can? The attractive proposition, or test as commonly cited in this scene, is the desire, the craving, the longing to be relevant in that moment. By relevant, Nouwen describes it as those places where “the self can do things, show things, prove things, build things.”[3] Could it be that we, like Jesus, are being asked to consider another way – a third way – that doesn’t respond immediately to what is relevant? Could it be that we are called into a different posture to speak what is more true, a discernment that comes from being in relationship with God?

That posture is prayer. Moving towards God again and again in the longing to be in communion – that is prayer. Instead of reacting to what it immediate, we can lean into a listening place where we no longer rely on what makes us relevant, or more intelligent, or more adept at a particular skill like changing stones into bread. We can live within the “steady stream of words [spiritual nourishment] from God’s mouth.” Jesus experiences freedom in the desert, even in the midst of his fasting. He knows the longing beyond the perceived craving, a knowing that comes in his willingness to stay focused on the One who fulfills those longings.

Our prayer does not mean we don’t act when we are called to act. Rather, Nouwen offers this perspective: [S]ecurely rooted in the personal intimacy with the source of life, it will be possible to remain flexible without being relativistic, convinced without being rigid, willing to confront without being offensive, gentle and forgiving without being soft, and true witnesses without being manipulative. [4]

Perhaps then, for me, if I consider this third way, I may not seek to be relevant as much as seek the one who is my source of life. In fact, as I continue this nutritional plan (my own type of fasting), I might be a bit kinder to my husband, an act of being gentle and forgiving. Even more so, I may have the capacity, while in the hardest of places, to frame the way in which I act toward others through the lens of love that comes from communion. Like Jesus offers, it takes more than bread to stay alive. To live fully alive means to be present to God.

  • Mary Pandiani, Executive Director

[1] Matthew 3:17b, The Message

[2] Matthew 3:3-4

[3] Henri Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership, (NY,NY: Crossroads, 1989), p.16.

[4] Ibid, p. 32.

The Old Rugged Cross

On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,

the emblem of suff’ring and shame;

And I love that old cross where the dearest and best

for a world of lost sinners was slain.

Oh, that old rugged cross so despised by the world,

has a wondrous attraction for me;

for the dear Lamb of God left his glory above

to bear it to dark Calvary.

In the old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,

a wondrous beauty I see;

for ’twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died

to pardon and sanctify me.

To the old rugged cross I will ever be true,

it’s shame and reproach gladly bear;

then he’ll call me some day to my home far away

where his glory forever I’ll share.

So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,

til my trophies at last I lay down;

I will cling to the old rugged cross,

and exchange it someday for a crown.

Words & Music by George Bennard
1912
(1873-1958)  

Excerpt from
Reflections: A Journey through Lent into Easter
from Selah Center
Available now on Amazon

Photo by Yoal Desurmont on Unsplash

Catch Me in My Scurrying

Catch me in my anxious scurrying, Lord,
and hold me in this Lenten season:
hold my feet to the fire of your grace
and make me attentive to my mortality
that I may begin to die now
to those things that keep me
from living with you
and with my neighbors on this earth;
to grudges and indifference,
to certainties that smother possibilities,
to my fascination with false securities,
to my addiction to sweatless dreams,
to my arrogant insistence on how it has to be,
to my corrosive fear of dying someday
which eats away the wonder of living this day,
and the adventure of losing my life
in order to find it in you.
Catch me in my aimless scurrying, Lord,
and hold me in this Lenten season:
hold my heart to the beat of your grace
and create in me a resting place,
a kneeling place,
a tip-toe place
Where I can recover from the dis-ease of my grandiosities
which fill my mind and calendar with busy self-importance,
that I may become vulnerable enough
to dare intimacy with the familiar,
to listen cup-eared for your summons,
and watch squint-eyed for your crooked finger
in the crying of a child,
in the hunger of the street people,
in the fear of nuclear holocaust in all people,
in the rage of those oppressed because of sex or race,
in the smoldering resentments of exploited third world nations,
in the sullen apathy of the poor and ghetto-strangled people,
in my lonely doubt and limping ambivalence;
and somehow,
during this season of sacrifice,
enable me to sacrifice time
and possessions
and securities,
to do something….
something about what I see,
something to turn the water of my words
into the wine of will and risk,
into the bread of blood and blisters,
into the blessedness of deed,
of a cross picked up,
a savior followed.
Catch me in my mindless scurrying, Lord,
and hold me in this Lenten season:
hold my spirit to the beacon of your grace
and grant me light enough to walk boldly,
to feel passionately,
to love aggressively;
grant me peace enough to want more,
to work for more
and to submit to nothing less,
and to fear only you …
only you!
Bequeath me not becalmed seas,
slack sails and premature benedictions,
but breathe into me a torment,
storm enough to make within myself
and from myself,
something…
something new,
something saving,
something true,
a gladness of heart,
a pitch for a song in the storm,
a word of praise lived,
a gratitude shared,
a cross dared,
a joy received.
-Ted Loder

 

Guerrillas of Grace: Prayers for the Battle
© 1981 Ted Loder, Augsburgfortress Books

Excerpt from
Reflections: A Journey through Lent into Easter
from Selah Center
Available now on Amazon