By: Maggie Leonard
Reflection-v. 14 “I will plant you on fertile land, and you will know that I am the Lord’
As I think about this verse in the Lenten context, I am reminded of a poem by my favorite poet, Hafiz. Daniel Ladinsky translates it from Persian as follows – ‘What plant can grow if you keep lifting it from the soil? Let your roots expand unchecked into a forest, a river, a song, or some verse you hold tenderly. You need to become quiet for this, as roots work in silence beneath the earth’s silhouettes. Draw from souls all you ever could want above, below, and to the side, and within us, within us just love.’ Having the gifts of nutrients available isn’t enough, we have to do our part to receive them. This call to silence is probably the most difficult part for many of us. Last year for one of my classes, I had to devise an experiment on myself to change a habit. I decided that I wanted to walk my dog more often. I failed miserably. I realized that I failed because while I wanted to change my habit, I had not really done the work of changing my attitude and heart. Post-experiment, I worked to make these deeper changes and my dog walking habits did indeed shift as well. For many of us, we will have to actively seek to change our attitudes about taking time for silence – to really prioritize that time in our hearts. It is there that we will grow in depth, nurtured by God’s gifts of love – drawing it in from every direction. It’s in receiving this goodness that we truly start to understand and know who God is.
Prayer God of life, nurture us that we may ever grow deeper roots in love.
By: Maggie Leonard
Reflection—v. 2 ‘they were very dry’
I have a confession for y’all. I kill plants. Especially house plants. I’ve even killed rosemary, which is basically impossible to kill. I don’t do it on purpose, it just comes naturally to me. I suspect they die because they are deprived of sunlight or water or new soil or a bigger pot… I’m never really sure. It’s probably mostly the watering though. I always know that it’s a bad sign when I try to water the plant and all the water trickles straight through the dry dirt. It’s like the dirt has been dry for so long that it has forgotten how to absorb water. At that point, it’s not necessarily a lost cause yet, but immediate attention is needed. It takes time, consistency, and patience to get the dirt to absorb water again. Pouring lots of water on it never works, on those occasions I end up with water all over the table. Instead, I have to drop ice cubes in the pot. As they melt slowly, the dirt has more time to soften and absorb. I think we can get like that too. If we deprive ourselves of God’s presence in the world, it doesn’t matter how much grace and mercy is poured upon us, we don’t absorb it. We can’t–not yet anyway. It takes time, consistency, and patience. Slowly but surely, as we attend to God we start to feel that love fill us again. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why Lent is 40 days – if we haven’t been attentive to God’s presence, it will take some time to soften, absorb, and feel. It will happen though, have faith.
Prayer Patient and attentive God, soften our hearts that we may absorb your grace.
By: Maggie Leonard
Reflection—v. 9 ‘dead bodies’
Have you ever found yourself so busy that you forgot to eat? I am not one to forget to eat often–but every now and then, the momentum will carry me and I won’t know what time it is, much less that I haven’t eaten. Once I finally do slow down, or look at a clock, exhaustion and hunger hit. I’m tired, dead tired. Through the scriptures featured for this week, there is a theme of death. Real, full, smelly, dry death. I wonder if Ezekiel’s valley of bones knew that they weren’t living, even when the sinews and flesh appeared. Or if the Romans knew that selfishness was killing them and separating them from God. Or Lazarus? That one’s a doozy to begin with, I can’t even imagine what he was thinking. What seems clear, is that without God, without the Spirit, we aren’t truly living. A friend of mine recently took Benedictine vows. He lives at a little house of prayer in middle Georgia where the weary can find respite, prayer, and reflection on silent retreat. As we celebrated his decision, a fellow well-wisher reflected on the space that he, and his companions, hold for others. It is because they live a slow, prayer-filled, countercultural life that others can enter more deeply into the presence of God. Visitors take up the invitation to ‘be’ with God and are given the time and space to reset and reconnect with God. This Lenten season, may we have the awareness to see how weary we have become and have the courage to allow God to bring us to new life.
Prayer Living God, give us rest, give us nourishment, and bring us new life.
By: David Swank
Reflection—v .4 ‘I fear no evil, for you are with me’
I was in good health for a 61 year old man, or so I thought until 3 months ago when I suddenly became ill. I was forced to see a doctor at Grady where I was checked in as a patient. The doctors there had to run a bunch of tests for them to determine how sick I was. After the tests were done and the results were in, I had Pastor Chad with me, and the doctor informed us that I have colon cancer. It was Stage 4–which it doesn’t go any higher than that. I have three pastors who have been a real rock and salvation for me. I’m high on personal confidence–I truly feel that with God’s love and guidance, along with three loving pastors standing behind me, I truly do feel that I can overcome any life- threatening disease that Satan will throw at me. I also think my current armor of God is me, Pastor Holly, Pastor Brittany, and my helmet is my Senior Pastor Chad–he has helped me more than I could ever repay. Whatever happens in the end, I feel ready to meet my God, if that is God’s plan for me.
Prayer God, our rock and our salvation, protect us from all harm and surround us with your love and guidance when we need it the most.
By: Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum
Reflection—v. 23 ‘…and I will dwell in the house of the Lord’
What does it mean to make someplace a home? This past fall my family and I purchased and moved into our first home, but oddly enough, my new residence isn’t the first place that comes to mind when I think of the home I’ve made here for myself and my family. I think of my community and how they have taught me to read the Bible in ways I couldn’t perceive before. I think of how the moment my daughter bursts into the room where we worship and eat together multiple voices shout out reminders about her peanut-allergy and stash nut products away so no harm comes to her. I think of the people with whom I can be angry and disappointed and joyful and silly and my whole beloved-broken self, knowing that there’s no judgment because they’re beloved and broken too and I am not alone. Being in community isn’t always so wistfully blissful, but it does remind me of what God desires for us: home. God desires for us, pursues for us, a place to rest our heads at night that offers shelter and security and the dignity we all deserve. But in addition to the physical shelter that is so essential, God also desires for each of us places of security where we know we can come and be ourselves, embraced for our full humanity, not told to move along, but told to sit and rest awhile because we belong here. The church can be that place—let’s make a home for one another right here.
Prayer Let us dwell with you, O Lord, and lead us into safe spaces where we can be ourselves and know that we are loved.
By: Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum
Reflection—v. 34 ‘You were born entirely in sins… are you trying to teach us?’
Before they drive him out of the synagogue, the leaders balk at the audacity of the beggar-turned-prophet who outwits their persistent questions and offers to elucidate instead. They are trying to reason, question, logic-out, or even theologize what has happened to this once over-looked poor beggar who, along with the man who healed him, no longer fit into their limited paradigm of how God works. As this clever evangelist and a busy-at-work Jesus become progressively disruptive and unignorable, the leaders become increasingly unable (and perhaps unwilling) to accept and perceive the messy beauty of what’s transpired—that God-with-us wasn’t afraid to get down in the dirt and empower this prophet who can plainly speak for himself. The leaders bring up the man’s sinfulness, a convenient reason to discredit his voice and silence his experience. They grasp for any reason not to hear wisdom from a poor man they not-so-secretly wish had stayed in his lane. If one spends any time with our sacred text, it should be unsurprising that God’s voice so often speaks from the margins–from the mouths of the poor, the homeless, the disabled, and the neglected. Yet, do we give credence to these voices, or do we, like the grasping synagogue leaders, question what they could have to teach us? God is still busy out there on those streets. May we be open enough not to miss God’s handiwork in the stories and experiences of others.
Prayer God at work, help us to listen and to be willing to learn, especially from those we don’t expect to have something to teach us.
By: Chad Hyatt
Reflection—v. 3 ‘the one who keeps you will not slumber’
The pastor didn’t sleep much that night. She was too alert to rest as she kept ‘watch o’er her flock,’ not unlike certain shepherds on a Christmas night long ago. But the sweet song of angels didn’t reward her vigilance. Instead, a chorus of antiphonal snoring and the persistent percussion of footsteps en route to the restroom announced the good news on this evening. For those nocturnal sounds could mean only one thing: her sleepless night had helped create the space for forty other souls to rest warm and safe—for one winter night at least. This psalm describes in tender detail the attentive care of our pastoral God, and hers is the image I call to mind. God isn’t asleep on the job. She’s watching over us, whether we’re sound asleep or wide awake, coming in or just about to head out. Our song, ‘Jesus Is a Sanctuary,’ explores this theme of a God who is the faithful refuge of her people. Singing it, we remind ourselves that God is indeed our our shelter and sanctuary. But we also remind ourselves that we are called to provide space for one another that is both sacred and safe. Jesus is indeed a sanctuary, but we are his body. As we ponder penance this Lent, let us repent of doors that are closed and sanctuaries that sit empty on cold nights, of pews and carpet that are unstained by human need, of policies and liability concerns that take the place of moral discernment and compassion. And let us give thanks, too, for churches like our partners’ that open their doors and for so many, like that pastor and countless other volunteers from many churches, who hear the call of the God who tenderly watches over her people, by day and by night.
Prayer God who never rests in your constant care for us, help us to care for one another always.
By: Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum
Reflection—v. 11 ‘expose them’
Listening to the news about our country’s current state of affairs can be a practice in self-inflicted misery—it’s disheartening. Is there no one above corruption? Is there anyone willing to listen with reason and compassion? As I listen, I wind myself up with self-righteousness that quickly turns to resentment and despair. I want people to see what seems too clear to me! I want these crooked politicians and all their broken systems to be exposed! But then there are also these other times, when I myself know there are things I would rather conceal—all the ways that I am selfish, the many instances when I have benefited from privilege, the mistakes I’ve made, the times when I’ve said the wrong or hurtful thing. I don’t want anyone to know these things about me, lest they know that I’m imperfect too. On my healthiest of days, I know in my heart that none of us are perfect. The more willing I am to expose my own short-comings instead of squirreling them away in shame, the better I am able to mature and be transformed by the loving truth that I am complicit and sinful, that I have things to work on, but I am also beloved. Walking into the light, letting yourself be exposed for who you truly are (simultaneously beloved and broken), can be a bit of a painful process, but I believe it leads to wholeness, health, and a loving truthfulness we too often neglect. I pray for our leaders, and all of us who hold power, to be so exposed, that it may bring life, truth, and well-being for us all.
Prayer Healing spirit, descend upon us to bring light and truth and life!
By: Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum
1 Samuel 16:1-13
Reflection—v. 7 ‘do not look at his appearance’
This story is pretty classic disrupt-the-norm-defy-expectations God. Samuel is seeking the next king of Israel, but surprise! it’s not any of Jesse’s older, stronger, more qualified progenies, but the uninvited youngest of the bunch left to babysit the sheep! God’s choice is confoundingly not-obvious, but we’re told it is because God does not see as we appearance-obsessed mortals do. God understands the rich intricacies of a human heart for all its worth and value and judges from within. How odd then, isn’t it, that as followers of this heart-perceiving God who seeks the depths and complexities within human beings, we are so often satisfied with our face-value judgments of one another. Throughout our sacred texts God is choosing to work through, speak through, and lead through the unexpected, the marginalized, and the overlooked. We make all sorts of judgments about who can lead or serve, about whose voice has value, about who is in and who is out. To succeed or lead you must have the proper credentials and enough education. You can’t be too young, but you shouldn’t be too old either. You must dress a certain way and talk a certain way. It helps if you’re a certain gender, race, and sexual orientation too. Yet God continuously subverts our expectations and imagined regulations. Quite often God calls who we may least expect. Let us not be too hung up on appearances to miss when God is up to something new.
Prayer O God, surprise us, and let us be open-hearted enough to perceive the many people you work through every day.
By: Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum
1 Samual 16:1-13
Reflection—v. 2 ‘How can I go? If Saul hears of it…’
I can relate to Samuel’s hesitance after God urges him to seek out the next king of Israel. ‘If Saul finds out I’m looking for his replacement he will literally kill me,’ says Samuel. ‘Just take a cow with you and pretend you’re going to give a sacrifice,’ God says, imploring Samuel to be a little crafty in his work-around the system. God asks Samuel to subvert the powers that be, and while it’s cool to think about being a rebel for the Lord, it wasn’t as easy as blasting a contentious Facebook post. You see, I too like to fancy myself a rebel sometimes, with my turquoise hair and my tattoos, but in truth, deep down inside I like following the rules, getting pats on the head, and well, being liked. Yet try as I might to avoid it, if I position myself with God’s people on the margins, I seem unable to escape uncomfortable conflict. I find myself in situations where I must pushback when I would rather be agreeable. Where I must step in the midst of arguments when I would rather turn away. Where I must hide my intentions to protect the wellbeing of my community when I would rather trust systems and policies. Because the longer I find myself trying to be a faithful follower of our expectation-sabotaging God the more I find myself questioning whether ‘the powers that be’ have the poor’s best interests at heart (spoiler alert: they don’t!). When we’d rather not, may God give us the courage to be crafty power-subverting God-followers like Samuel and answer God’s command to ring in a different kind of kingdom.
Prayer Give us the courage, O God, to subvert the powers that do your children harm.